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.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Leigh Whannell|
|Written by||Leigh Whannell|
|Music by||Jed Palmer|
|Edited by||Andy Canny|
|Box office||$17 million|
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 film's dark humor and action sequences.
Grey Trace, a mechanic, asks his wife Asha, a tech company employee, 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 Asha's 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. Asha's 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 wife's 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 Serk's 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 STEM's 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 and alluding that Asha's company hired them to kill her. Leaving the bar, Grey stumbles, and STEM informs him that Eron is attempting to shut them down remotely and bring Grey to custody by sending a security team. Fisk arrives at the bar and was able to extract information where Grey is heading from Tolan's eye memory footage. STEM directs Grey to a nearby hacker, formerly known as Jamie, and Grey manages to reach the hacker's address just as STEM shuts down completely, rendering Grey paralyzed again. The hired hacker manages to remove STEM's input guard and leaves just as Fisk arrives. Fisk kills Eron's incoming security team. Grey, with STEM's control restored, kills Fisk's remaining companion Wen.
Grey returns home only for Pamela to see him walking, forcing him to reveal STEM's existence. Cortez arrives to interrogate them after finding Grey's wheelchair abandoned at the Old Bones; she leaves after planting a listening device on Grey's 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 a nearby automated car to malfunction and crash into Cortez’, who is tailing them. Cortez returns to Grey's 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 Grey's 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. Fisk's phone reveals messages from Eron, suggesting that he had orchestrated all the events.
Grey enters Eron's 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 Eron's life in pursuit of its goal to become human and that it wants to kill Eron so that he could not build another STEM since he is the only one capable of creating one. 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, Grey is still in Eron's home. STEM, now in full control, explains to Cortez that the psychological strain has finally broken Grey's mind leaving Grey stuck in a fantasy where he can be with Asha again; this was STEM's objective all along, as this allowed STEM to assume total control over Grey's mind and body. Grey's consciousness believes the idyllic dream state it has found, while STEM kills Cortez and leaves.
- Logan Marshall-Green as Grey Trace
- Simon Maiden as STEM (voice)
- Betty Gabriel as Det. Cortez
- Harrison Gilbertson as Eron Keen
- Melanie Vallejo as Asha Trace
- Benedict Hardie as Fisk Brantner
- Linda Cropper as Pamela Trace
- Abby Craden as Kara (voice)
- Richard Cawthorne as Serk Brantner
- Christopher Kirby as Tolan
- Clayton Jacobson as Manny
- Richard Anastasios as Wen
- Kai Bradley as Jamie
- Ming-Zhu Hii as Dr. Diana Gordon
- Steve Danielsen as Jeff Handley
- Emily Havea as Nurse Henderson
- Sachin Joab as Dr. Bhatia
- Michael M. Foster as Male Vessel Guard Jeffries
- Zia Kelly as Female Vessel Guard
- Matt Davis as Homeless Man in wheelchair
- Mark Doggett as Businessman in automated car
The film was originally titled STEM. Whannell wrote the first draft at least six years before making the film.Principal photography on the film began in March 2017 in Whannell's 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.
Cinematographer Stefan Duscio shot the film with Arri Alexa XT and Alexa Mini cameras and Panavision C- and E-Series anamorphic lenses. The unusual camerawork during the fight scenes was achieved by attaching a phone to Marshall-Green and having the Alexa Mini track the gyroscope of the phone.
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.
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.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88% based on 185 reviews, and an average rating of 7.34/10. The website's 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 magazine's blog Vulture, said, "A great and grimy little screw-turner of sci-fi schlock, the kind that they truly don't make anymore, the kind that would make Carpenter and Cameron proud." In a less positive review, 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."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients||Result||Ref.|
|AACTA Awards||3 December 2018||Best Original Screenplay||Leigh Whannell||Nominated|||
|Best Editing||Andy Canny||Nominated|
|Best Original Music Score||Jed Palmer||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Will Files, P.K. Hooker, Andrew Ramage||Nominated|
|Best Production Design||Felicity Abbott, Katie Sharrock||Nominated|
|Best Visual Effects or Animation||Kate Bernauer, Aevar Bjarnason, Matt Daly, Jonathan Dearing, Angelo Sahin||Nominated|
|Best Hair and Makeup||Larry Van Duynhoven, Chiara Tripodi||Nominated|
|Fangoria Chainsaw Awards||February 25, 2019||Best Wide Release||Leigh Whannell||Nominated|||
|Best Actor||Logan Marshall-Green||Nominated|
|Saturn Award||13 September 2019||Best Science Fiction Film||Nominated|||
|SXSW Film Awards||13 March 2018||Audience Award – Midnighters||Leigh Whannell||Won|||
On 16 August 2018, producer Jason Blum said he had plans for a potential sequel. In February 2020, Leigh Whannell expressed enthusiasm for making a follow-up, saying "I loved making that film, so I'd love to do it with a bit more money." Blum restated that he "would love an Upgrade sequel" and that although there were no immediate plans, it was something on both of their minds. In May 2020, it was reported that the sequel was being reworked into a television series, with Whannell, in addition to directing the series, would co-create the series alongside Tim Walsh, who will serve as showrunner and both men will serve as executive producers. Blumhouse Television is set to produce the series alongside UCP, who have set up a writers room. The plot of the series is that it is set a few years after the events of the film, with an evolved version of STEM and new host, with the government using STEM as a way to curb criminal activity.
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