ⓘ Upgrade (film)
Upgrade is a 2018 cyberpunk action body horror film written and directed by Leigh Whannell and starring Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, and Harrison Gilbertson. The film follows a technophobe who is implanted with a chip that allows him to control his body after a mugging leaves him paralyzed. The film was produced by Jason Blum, under his Blumhouse Productions banner.
After premiering on 10 March 2018 at South by Southwest, the film was released on 1 June 2018 in the United States by OTL Releasing and Blumhouse Tilt, and on 14 June 2018 in Australia. The film received positive reviews from critics, who called it "one part The Six Million Dollar Man, one part Death Wish revenge fantasy", and praised the films dark humor and action sequences.
Grey Trace, a mechanic, asks his wife Asha to help him return a refurbished car to his client Eron Keen, a renowned tech innovator. While visiting his home, Eron reveals his latest creation, a multi-purpose chip called STEM with almost unlimited potential. Returning home, Grey and Ashas self-driving car malfunctions and crashes. Four men attack the couple. Asha is killed and Grey is shot in the neck, severing his spinal cord.
Grey returns home months later as a quadriplegic, under the care of his mother, Pamela. Ashas death and the inability of Det. Cortez to identify their attackers causes Grey to sink into depression. After a suicide attempt, he is visited by Eron, who convinces him to accept a STEM implant, claiming it would allow him to walk again. Grey regains control of his limbs and Eron has Grey sign a non-disclosure agreement, requiring Grey to pretend to still be paralyzed. While watching a drone video feed of his wifes murder, Grey hears STEM speak in his mind. STEM says it can help Grey get revenge and quickly identifies one of the assailants, Serk Brantner, from the video.
Grey breaks into Serks home and finds proof Serk was "upgraded" with cybernetic implants, and finds messages connecting him with a local bar called the Old Bones. Serk arrives and attacks Grey, but STEM convinces Grey to allow it to take full control of his body, and easily overpowers Serk, violently killing him. Cortez later sees drone footage of Grey’s wheelchair approaching Serk’s house, but his paralysis negates him as a suspect.
Eron has tracked STEMs movements and berates Grey for potentially exposing STEM. Grey reveals STEM is speaking to him, which surprises Eron, who demands that Grey stop his investigation. Grey proceeds to the Old Bones and finds Tolan, another of the assailants. Grey allows STEM to torture Tolan to death, obtaining the name of the assailants ringleader, Fisk. Leaving the bar, Grey stumbles, and STEM informs him that Eron is attempting to shut them down remotely. STEM directs Grey to a nearby hacker, formerly known as Jamie, and Grey manages to reach the hackers address just as STEM shuts down completely, rendering Grey paralyzed again. The hacker manages to remove STEMs input guard and leaves just as Fisk arrives. Grey, with STEMs control restored, kills Fisks remaining companion.
Grey returns home only for Pamela to see him walking, forcing him to reveal STEMs existence. Cortez arrives to interrogate them after finding Greys wheelchair abandoned at the Old Bones; she leaves after planting a listening device on Greys jacket. Grey wishes to give up the hunt, but STEM explains that Fisk will track them down and kill them. STEM reveals that the hack gives him free control of Grey’s body. STEM uses Grey to drive to Fisk, causing an automated car to malfunction and crash into Cortez’, who is tailing them. Cortez returns to Greys home, where Pamela explains STEM to her.
Grey and STEM find Fisk, who reveals he was only hired to paralyze Grey so he could be implanted. Fisk’s own upgrades outpace Greys movements, enabling him to gain the upper hand until Grey taunts Fisk with the death of Serk, his brother. With Fisk distracted, STEM is able to kill him. Fisks phone reveals messages from Eron, suggesting that he had orchestrated all the events.
Grey enters Erons home but is held at gunpoint by Cortez before he can kill Eron. Eron confesses how STEM forced him to do its bidding, having long since come to dominate all aspects of Erons life in pursuit of its goal to become human. STEM then kills Eron and attempts to kill Cortez, but Grey fights for control over his own body, managing to shoot himself. He suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, not paralyzed; Asha enters and explains he has been unconscious for days following their crash.
In reality, however, Grey is still in Erons home. STEM, now in full control, explains to Cortez that the psychological strain has finally broken Greys mind; this was STEMs objective all along, as this allowed STEM to assume total control over Greys mind and body. Greys consciousness believes the idyllic dream state it has found, while STEM kills Cortez and leaves.
Principal photography on the film began in March 2017 in Whannells hometown of Melbourne; The chase scene taking place on the southern section of the Craigieburn bypass Hume Freeway M31 goes the opposite direction to what would have been normal traffic flow to appear that it was filmed in a left hand drive country. Editing took place in Sydney.
After premiering on 10 March 2018 at South by Southwest and winning the Midnighters Award, the film was released on 1 June in the United States, and 14 June in Australia by Blumhouse Tilt.
Upgrade is setup for retail in 2 packages, Blu-ray with Digital HD & DVD on 28 August 2018.
4.1. Reception Box office
In the United States, Upgrade was released on 1 June 2018, alongside Adrift and Action Point, and was projected to gross around $3 million from 1.457 theaters in its opening weekend. It ended up debuting slightly above estimates with $4.6 million and finished sixth at the box office. It was the second best opening for a BH Tilt film, after The Darkness $4.95 million in 2016. It made $2.2 million in its second weekend, finishing ninth.
4.2. Reception Critical response
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 87% based on 173 reviews, and an average rating of 7.27/10. The websites critical consensus reads, "Like its augmented protagonist, Upgrade s old-fashioned innards get a high-tech boost – one made even more powerful thanks to sharp humor and a solidly well-told story." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film a 78% overall positive score and a 46% "definite recommend".
In The Sunday Times UK Ed Potton muses, "apart from a few flimsy special effects. this is a satire that cleaves dangerously close to reality at times." Emily Yoshida, writing for New York magazines blog Vulture, said, "A great and grimy little screw-turner of sci-fi schlock, the kind that they truly dont make anymore, the kind that would make Carpenter and Cameron proud." On the other hand, Charles Bramesco of The Guardian said, "While Whannell wrestles with warring desires to fret over the techno oblivion we’re hurtling towards or have a laugh about it, that conflict manifests in a disappointing tonal clash that robs the film of the low-rent fun it could be having."
On 16 August 2018, producer Jason Blum commented on Twitter that there are plans for a potential sequel.
In February 2020, Leigh Whannell expressed enthusiasm for making a follow-up, saying "I loved making that film, so Id love to do it with a bit more money."