A bold, bloody, genre bending, cyberpunk/body horror mash-up where Siri turns psycho, perhaps the most shocking thing about Leigh Whannell’s gobsmackingly violent, balls-to-the-wall Upgrade is it’s only received a 15 certificate from the BBFC!

It’s the near future and in a world of self-driving cars, automated surveillance drones and computer-controlled homes, Grey Trace is an old school Luddite, an analogue man in a digital world, the kinda guy who still listens to his music on vinyl. A mechanic who restores 20thCentury muscle cars for wealthy private clients, Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are driving home after visiting his latest customer, eccentric tech billionaire Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), when their self-driving car malfunctions and crashes on the wrong side of town where they are attacked by a group of thugs who brutally murder Asha and paralyse Grey, leaving him for dead.

Depressed by police detective Cortez’s (Betty Gabriel) inability to capture Asha’s killers, the now quadraplegic Grey is depressed, suicidal, when Eron makes him an offer he can’t refuse; he’ll implant his latest creation, an experimental computer chip called STEM, in Grey’s spine, restoring his physical function and enabling him to walk again on condition they keep the procedure a secret. The results are nothing short of miraculous, leaving Grey faster, stronger, than he was before.

But Grey finds his new-found mobility comes at a price; STEM is more than just a computer chip, it’s a self-aware artificial intelligence, an evolutionary leap forward. And STEM does more than just get Grey walking again. It talks to him. And STEM can do the one thing the police can’t; it can track down Asha’s killers. It can give Grey a chance at justice, at revenge. But when the bad guys have guns implanted in their arms and are able to unleash clouds of deadly nanobots with every breath, it’s a good thing STEM has a fight mode. All Grey has to do is give STEM permission to take over his body and operate independently…      

Drawing on Robocop, Videodrome, Death Wish and Knight Rider (yes, KNIGHT RIDER!) as well as every buddy comedy/thriller you’ve ever seen, Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a lean, mean, shot of low-budget adrenaline right to the eyeballs, a pulpy, hyperviolent revenge flick that dispenses with all that troublesome character and story stuff early on in order to throw its protagonist(s) into a thrilling series of increasingly batshit crazy fight scenes as Grey and STEM track down the gang of murderous cyborg ex-soldiers responsible for Asha’s death the brooding and intense Marshall-Green taking the athletic fight scenes in his stride and showing a surprising gift for physical comedy as he’s dragged along for the ride by the killer robot inhabiting his body, alternately awed, gleeful and horrified by the stiff-limbed carnage he’s unleashed even as he banters and bickers with his homicidal KITT stand-in (voiced in deadpan fashion by Australian actor Simon Maiden).

While writer/director Whannell’s script asks some big questions about the nature of humanity in a post-human world, our increasing reliance on technology, our abdication of responsibility to the machines that rule our lives and the next step in our evolution, thankfully the man who created the Saw and Insidious franchises is more interested in providing kick-ass genre thrills than exploring the philosophy of transhumanism, never allowing his big ideas to get in the way of a splashily gory exploding head or a bone-snapping fight scene.

Wildly kinetic, stunningly violent and damn smart, Upgrade is a sleazy, cheerfully amoral, rollercoaster ride of superior B-movie thrills that’s more fun than an evening spent munching psilocybins and watching clown porn.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Upgrade
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