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Genius Exploitation Cinema

Upgrade is to wayward technology what RoboCop was to a police state. Both movies satirize their era, RoboCop the twisted, rising crime of the ‘80s, Upgrade the aloof silicon valley billionaires who society lets rule their lives.

To be upfront, Upgrade doesn’t stray far from exploitation cinema. The use of extreme gore, a comic ballet of violent choreography, and a routine revenge tale isn’t where the strength lies. All of that falls secondary to the unusually slick, adept script that by the end, reaches a cynical crescendo after a pile-on of twists.

At the beginning, Upgrade is about old school versus new school. The first shot is the pan of a garage interior. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) tinkers on a ‘60s classic car. Cut to the interior of a self-driving supercar, pulling into the driveway, then revealing the home’s interior as designed by Apple. There’s a touch screen table, a food-making crane arm, and autonomous voice activation. Grey isn’t in his element; only his wife is.

Soon, tech is a necessity. Grey is paralyzed and understandably depressed. Upgrade is cold in its depiction, capable of empathy in a genre so often avoiding anything less than masculine power. Grey even cries in his mother’s arms. For a film soon to be slicing open jawlines, it’s unexpectedly honest and pure.

Kills soon follow. In writer/director Leigh Whannell’s twisted method (as pulled from his Saw series), Grey becomes superhuman with a violent disposition. He’s implanted with a chip that erases his handicap. That chip comes from Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) – a one letter off riff on Elon – a distant, anti-social genius played with genuine introversion.

The revenge story is Upgrade’s pawn for a story of tech addiction and the loss that results

Eron isn’t only a rogue, capitalist scientist. There’s more to this character, excited by the possibilities and the chance of fixing paralytics. Covered by surrealist lighting (all of Upgrade is) adds the necessary madness, as it does to the entire world. With Eron’s help, Upgrade becomes a rush to find a group of killers; Grey is only a partial participant in the fracas. Choreography comes from a place of creative joy; Grey, not quite a cyborg but allowing the loss of human control, begins hacking up adversaries as he find them courtesy of his implant.

It’s funny. Each fight holds a morbid sense of comedic timing. Grey smashes an entire set of china over his first victim, doing so with an impossible precision. Upgrade grows seedier. Grey lets his control and humanity go, turning to the machines. The revenge story is Upgrade’s pawn for a story of tech addiction and the loss that results. For a plot this anemic, it’s stupidly clever, and when shot with such ghostly, colorful lighting, hyper attractive.

Movies like Upgrade take time for their brilliance to show. Again, like Robocop, Upgrade foreshadows a hyper-real future, implicit in its warning, if deviously over-the-top as to not lose anyone’s attention. In twenty years, when self-driving vehicles own freeways and computer chips leave us vulnerable, Upgrade will make a lot more sense. Chances are, it will still make people laugh too.


Say Upgrade was given an HDR pass and it’s likely to convince someone that Blu-ray suddenly became capable. The intensity of the contrast paired with faultless black levels creates obscene depth for this format. Deep shadows show no signs of crush and recede to pure black with great preservation of detail.

Despite the heavy darkness that sits over most of Upgrade, the slew of eccentric color gives the disc life. Reds, greens, teals, oranges; all of them have time to play. At times, they change like a kaleidoscope, and while never natural, this persistent and warping palette adds to the surreal tone.

Of course, there’s detail. Rich, well defined detail. Close-ups display ludicrous levels of texture. Exteriors of the future city won’t fall to aliasing or other fault. Upgrade’s digital cinematography is addicted to clarity, and Universal’s encode likewise. Here’s to a reference tier disc.


The DTS-HD track is glorious too. While not the sonic powerhouse of Transformers, the way Upgrade uses sound is far more interesting. As Grey lets his internal computer takeover, bass increases as he fights. By the time of a crucial third act brawl, each punch is accentuated by low-end power. Car engines press on the low-end too, this while sweeping through the soundstage with effortless tracking.

Grey’s internal voice always comes from the surrounds to simulate his hearing. The use of ambiance affects the movie’s world, creating busy police stations and a downtrodden bar. During fights, debris will scatter around, and gunfire is placed with care. This isn’t subtle, rather perfect for everything Upgrade needs.


Universal includes nothing here. Nada. In a decade or so when Upgrade gains cult classic status, this one will earn its due. Or it should, anyway.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


Upgrade’s brilliance will take time to properly seep in to movie culture, but when it does, this is a future cult classic.

User Review
5 (1 vote)

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 20 Upgrade screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 15,000+ already in our library), 50+ exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.

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