UPGRADE: Aussie Low Budget Bloody Awesome Sci-Fi

When I first saw the invitation to attend a screening on UPGRADE I assumed a B-Grade straight-to-DVD attempt at something grand where vision outweighed budget, I then watched the trailer and I was “holy shit – I have to see this movie!” I then heard it was a movie and assumed it would be (at least) fun. What I didn’t expect was a low budget film, made in Australia, that would be one batshit insane awesome piece of science fiction tech paranoia action horror cinema. UPGRADE is out now from Madman Films, is rated MA15+ (although could be R) and runs for 100mins.

 

UPGRADE: Melanie Vallejo and Logan Marshall-Green image
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UPGRADE SYNOPSIS:

After his wife is killed during a brutal mugging that also leaves him paralysed, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, PROMETHEUS) is approached by a billionaire inventor with an experimental cure that will “upgrade” his body. The cure – an Artificial Intelligence implant called STEM – gives Grey physical abilities beyond anything experienced and the ability to relentlessly claim vengeance against those who murdered his wife and left him for dead.

 

UPGRADE: Logan Marshall-Green image
Logan Marshall-Green

 

WHEN A GORE MASTER DOES SCI-FI:

UPGRADE is mostly science fiction, part revenge movie, part technology paranoia movie and part horror movie and is inspired by 2001, TERMINATOR, DEATH WISH and 6 MILLION DOLLAR MAN. It is also evident the movie was influenced by a love of 80s and 90s movies, something that gets a big tick from me. And then it’s directed by a gore master in Leigh Whannell who wrote the SAW movies and INSIDIOUS and had his directorial debut in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3.

He wrote and released UPGRADE with perfect timing given the current state of technology paranoia in this modern ‘big brother Facebook’ world. STEM is an operating system and integrates with biology to create a fully functioning cyborg in Grey Trace. It is fully feasible this will occur in the near future. But STEM is a little more HAL than medical assistance operating system and I absolutely love this angle in the mad-computer genre.

UPGRADE was made from somewhere around $3-$5 MILLION dollars and has production qualities, special effects and technology that far surpasses the budget they had. The genius in the frugal filming methods and achieving their goals on a shoestring gets this movie a lot of respect. A lot of the movie is filmed in Melbourne and you may notice RMIT and the highway in Craigieburn in some of the scenes. I just got back from Melbourne and was stoked to recognise the highway while I was there.

Now the horror angle is heavily evident in Whannell’s scenes, some gross-out death scenes that go way too far will have some people a little flustered but fans of SAW and gross-out horror may laugh and even clap some of the scenes haha. One thing is for sure, the realism in the effects is stellar.

TECHNOLOGY AESTHETICS:

Art direction and UPGRADE’S aesthetics visually impressed. Eron’s () house is a modern wonder, all set built, a blending of technology with nature, old with new. Internal gardens as art, stairway into a cave-like lair in a cliff face and an actual man-made cloud as Eron’s access to his data cloud. It’s slick and very Apple/Mac/ Tesla in the design of the future.

The look at self-driving cars and all that can go wrong with them is another poignant theme of the film and gives a possible worse case scenario. And the world design in itself looks and feels realistic. It won’t be a total futuristic world, it will be the world slowly being taken over by technology and what we would consider “futuristic.” As such a lot of the sets or worlds will be old blended with new, it works and is thematically on-point. 

 

UPGRADE: Logan Marshall-Green and Renah Gallagher image
Logan Marshall-Green and Renah Gallagher

 

IT’S NOT TOM HARDY AND OTHER CAST:

One huge success of UPGRADE lies in (not Tom Hardy) Logan Marshall-Green, a dead ringer for the new Mad Max. His movements are like a Terminator trying to learn how to move like a human. It is jarring and rigid and totally believable. His hands may be fighting like Neo in THE MATRIX but his face is showing pure horror at his inability to stop the carnage he is creating. It is genius and leads to some wickedly dark humour. Logan Marshall-Green deserves some awards for his performance, it is definitely a breakout role and will see a lot more casting calls coming his way. I would have like to have seen a lot more of Melanie Vallejo as Asha Trace but sadly she is mainly the “dead wife” cause for revenge only.

I almost didn’t recognise Harrison Gilberstson as Eron or should we just call him renamed Elon haha. Gilbertson first came to my attention in BENEATH HILL 60 – fantastic Aussie war movie, he then went on to do a couple of TV shows and THE TURNING then NEED FOR SPEED and you can see him at the moment in PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. His tortured technology genius billionaire was an interesting character study of what happens when you design technology that  gains sentience and outweighs your own intelligence. Seeing a movie from Eron’s perspective would have been fantastic. 

Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) was completely unneeded, the need for a police presence was redundant and slowed the film from the main plot.

 

UPGRADE: Logan Marshall-Green image
Logan Marshall-Green

 

CINEMA RELEASE:

I’m a little confused at the Australian release schedule, it got mainstream cinema sessions but nothing at the art-house cinemas of Dendy and Palace. This will slap the movie in the face. The movie has limited to no marketing budget and won’t get many admissions in the mainstream environment. In the art-house cinemas it would have gained word-of-mouth, respect and a decent following.

IN CONCLUSION:

UPGRADE is one of those low budget films that comes out of nowhere and deserves high praise. Its low budget look at technology, one possible future, and AI sentience is a brilliant journey back into the genre that doesn’t avoid cliche, it integrates and embellishes them. I see cult classic status in the distant future.

 

 

 

YOUR CRITIC:

 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.