The commercial prospects for writer-director Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade look pretty bright judging by the first batch of reviews for the sci-fi thriller following the world premiere at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.
Critics responded to the eye-popping, kinetic action sequences, compelling performances and the depiction of a perfectly believable, near-future world of self-driving cars and voice-activated home systems.
The Melbourne-shot film was produced by Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones with Goalpost Pictures’ Kylie du Fresne.
Logan Marshall-Green plays Grey, a mechanic who loves tinkering with cars. After a mysterious car accident he and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are attacked by four men. Asha is killed and Grey is left paralysed from the neck down.
Billionaire geek Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey a cure: a “Stem” chip implant that could reactivate his atrophying muscles and help him wreak revenge. Get Out”s Betty Gabriel plays the detective in charge of Asha’s murder case.
Slash Film’s Matt Donato compared the meticulously-plotted film to David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, the Wachowski’s The Matrix and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
Donato opined: “This midnight amalgamation of science fiction paranoia and gritty action face-bashing is energized, high-voltage hysteria – a goddamn sensational genre upload that, for my money, puts Whannell in the same conversations of accomplished feature directors as his buddy James Wan.”
In a similar vein Dread Central’s Jonathan Barkan likened the tightly-written film to a more action-packed version of a Cronenberg movie, observing: “Add in some shocking yet phenomenal gore plus the writing and direction of Saw and Insidious: Chapter 3’s Leigh Whannell, and you’ve got a movie that horror fans should have no problem flocking to.
“When Grey teams up with Stem, this is where the movie really gets exciting. Combining elements of RoboCop, Equilibrium, Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix, the action is bone-jarring and Asha’s killers are dispatched in gruesome yet cheer-worthy displays of violence.”
Barkan did have one quibble, declaring: “Breakneck speed makes for a film that is never dull and will always have viewers eager for the next big event but it comes at the cost of feeling true vindictive joy when the criminals meet their end.”
IndieWire’s Jason Bailey opined: “By giving us an analog grease monkey with a digital body, Whannell has created a compact version of the classic buddy-cop dynamic (or maybe something closer to those ‘old thing with two heads’ movies).
“It’s a solid veer into the mid-level sci-fi that’s become so ubiquitous on Netflix these days; contrary to the studio’s customary horror M.O., the gore here exists almost solely in the kills. But they are eye-opening, including a memorable scene where one man kills another with a sneeze (yes, really). Yet one wishes that some of the inventiveness of its set pieces and throwaway flourishes could’ve made their way into the main narrative, which is a too-familiar drag.”
Blumhouse’s multi-platform label BH Tilt will launch the film in the US on June 1. Madman Entertainment has the Oz rights.