MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1hr 40min

Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.


Imagine the nefarious self-aware computer system HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey decided to make films instead of tormenting space men. Odds are he would have created Upgrade. Set in a not-so distant future Los Angeles, this lean and mean genre throwback utilizes classic revenge tropes to cleverly question whether mankind will ever reconcile its extreme dependence on technology.  

Director Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote the maiden sagas of the Saw and Insidious franchises, infuses Upgrade with the reckless verve of a bloody ’80s action film. Audio credits spoken by an eerie voice generator give way to the inside of a grungy garage where technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) restores classic cars. His flashy and successful media mogul wife brings home a corporate paycheck. Both characters come to respectively embody an organic clash between analog and digital.

Very little set-up precedes the violent act that leaves Grey paralyzed from the neck down, or the surgical implantation of an experimental software called STEM, which reconnects communication between his brain and crippled limbs. Whannell doesn’t waste much time before fixating entirely on the symbiotic relationship between Grey and the talky digital soul that turns his body into a killing machine. 

Upgrade (opening Friday, June 1) seamlessly sprints between kinetic fight scenes in which Grey willfully hands over control to STEM. In order to ensure survival, he’s willing to give up free will under the cold operating system’s ruthless management. One would be willfully ignorant not to see the metaphorical parallels with Facebook’s current privacy scandal and potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

But Whannell’s savage B movie doesn’t aspire to political allegory. The dystopia it presents is not collective, but the personal kind where technological immersion is used to justify rampant self-delusion. Near the end of Upgrade, Grey screams to STEM, “I can’t keep up!” One day in the near future we’ll all probably be saying the same thing. 

-Glenn Heath, Jr., San Diego City Beat