Dexian Wang
by Dexian Wang

Each and every year, there are awesome movies that slip through the crack of audiences. It happens for many reasons: botched marketing, stiff competition at the box office. They almost always have great reviews, yet somehow still manage to elude the general public’s consciousness… then find a larger audience after their initial theatrical run. Fight Club, Office Space, The Big Lebowski, Blade Runner, Donnie Darko, Dazed and Confused, Dredd, Edge of Tomorrow… the list of great movies who’ve found a second lease of life goes on and on! We’d like to add another movie to the mix: last year’s Upgrade. Here’s what makes a film that can best be described as a cyberpunk-action-body horror B-movie a bloody good watch:


 1. Blumhouse Pedigree

If you’re a fan of Saw or fellow low-budget horror gods Blumhouse, you’re in for a treat. Not only is the movie produced by Jason Blum, but the movie also sees Saw co-creator and writer Leigh Whannell stepping up to direct, while also penning the script. So expect really graphic violence and an absurd delight of indulging the ways of the body-horror genre.

2. B-movie Fun

The plot is classic by-the-numbers B-movie storytelling: Upgrade revolves around the story of a tech-phobic man named Grey (played by Tom Hardy clone Logan Marshall-Green). A vicious attack has killed his wife, and also left him quadriplegic. He undergoes an experimental surgery to be implanted with Stem, an artificial intelligence that restores the connection between his mind and his body… with a catch. Stem is now a presence in his head, but it's not content to let Grey make all the decisions anymore. The great thing here is that the filmmakers feel like they’re in the joke. There’s an all-round goofy quality to the proceedings, especially when Grey and Stem starting talking to each other on their missions, turning it into a buddy-cop movie of sorts.

3. Action Greyson

There’s something in Upgrade for the action movie buffs too. The movie features some rather innovative choreography going on. For starters, Logan Marshall-Green took training and research rather seriously. He spent time with a real-life quadriplegic, and learnt how vital a role hands play for quadriplegics in communicating. He trained for a month, as there were no stunt doubles on set, including working with a movement coach from Cirque Du Soleil to incorporate a rigid posture to reflect Grey’s predicament.

These little touches, combined with a very kinetic style of choreography, make for really unique action sequences. Logan Marshall-Green puts in an insane level of physicality to really convey the paralysis Grey experiences. The fact that Stem only controls his body from the neck down and has to surrender control of his body to Stem, brings out some great moments, in which Grey appears effortless in his actions, but is also terrified by the violence he’s dishing out. Grey also has to use his hand to turn his head occasionally due to the neck-down only control Stem has. The crew also used some nifty camerawork, strapping an iPhone to Logan that the camera would lock to, creating a rather robotic sync that gives the fights an uneasy quality.

Watch this mind-blowing kitchen battle when Stem fights in Grey's stead:


4. Back to The 80s

It’s easy to see Upgrade as a homage to some of the most seminal sci-fi/horror works of the 1980s. Now we’ve already touched on the goofy aspects of the film, but Upgrade is also a very visceral, gritty film. Part of it may be the low budget (3-5 million USD) that Blumhouse movies stick to… Upgrade definitely evokes the lo-fi dystopian vibes of 80s movie classics such as Videodrome, RoboCop and The Terminator. Paired together with its rather silly premise and goofy humour, Upgrade wouldn’t look out of place on a film slate with those classics.