Off the radar horror/sci-fi worth seeking out

The Movie Man, like you, had not heard much about the movie Upgrade.
Genre fans had been aware of it, but, like so many Blumhouse productions, it didn’t get a huge publicity push.
It won’t do great, but those horror/sci-fi fans who stumble on it will find a gem.

About the film
Blumhouse specializes in low-budget, scary movies.
The studio bolted into the public’s attention with Paranormal Activity (2009, Movie Man No. 846, 8 – the Movie Man got a bit freaked out at this one which hasn’t happened since).
PA was made for a whopping $15,000 (yes, $15,000) and not only made $193 million but spawned several sequels.
Other Blumhouse movies quickly followed, many raking in big cash over their paltry financing.
Among the wildly successful franchises that followed were Insidious (2011) and The Purge (2013, MM #1039, 6; a new Purge, The First Purge, arrives July 4).
Not everyone knows that Blumhouse has garnered some Oscar attention.
Whiplash (2014), decidedly non-horror, was Best Picture nominated as was Get Out (2016, MM #1243, 7).
Now, Blumhouse looks willing to fund about any sort of movie.
They have been behind everything from the unappreciated Dark Skies (2013, MM #1024, 7) to The Visit (2015, MM #1157, 7) to the movie that had one of the worst financial debuts in film history (for such a wide release), Jem and the Holograms (2015; it made only $2.3 million [of course, it only cost $5 million to make, so…]).
Its most recent huge moneymaker has been last April’s Truth or Dare which took in $85 million on a $3.5 million budget.
The horizon looks more than bright for Blumhouse.
Looming are a Spike Lee movie, BlacKkKlansman (Aug. 10); a new Halloween (Oct. 19); and the highly anticipated Glass (Jan. 18) which will tie together many M. Night Shyamalan movies – including Split (2017, MM #1238, 7), the surprise hit that was yet another Blumhouse movie.

The plot (SPOILER)
In the near future, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) isn’t a fan of technology, listening to albums and working on muscle cars. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo) is a techie however.
With her, Marshall-Green delivers a car to secretive Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). He has created a microchip, STEM, that can take over a person’s brain and make decisions.
That’s too weird for Marshall-Green – until he and his wife have a crash in her self-driving car; she’s murdered and he’s paralyzed.
To hunt down her killers, he agrees to let Gilbertson implant STEM into his brain.
Now, Marshall-Green can not only walk, but, when he gives the verbal okay to STEM, he becomes an unstoppable fighting machine.
He begins hunting down his wife’s killers with a curious cop, Cortez (Betty Gabriel) tailing him.
Right when Marshall-Green thinks his has it all figured out, a last-minute turn flips everything upside down.

What works
Marshall-Green is solid in a demanding role. One scene is surprisingly effective: when he breaks down and weeps as his mother holds him when he realizes the finality of his being paralyzed.
Another plus for Upgrade is the fight scenes. They are very cool after Marshall-Green must grant permission to STEM and he can suddenly anticipate, fight and move like no other human.
Fight scenes are usually done to death but these are really fun. (see Best Scene)
The first 75 minutes or so of the movie are exceptional. It’s a case of familiar themes being tweaked, and it works.
Technology – from vehicles to phones simply being tucked into ears like buds to mankind being completely wired up everywhere – is almost casually handled making it even more effective.
Gilbertson is weird and creepy; he’s a worthy foil.

Best scene
A “paralyzed” Marshall-Green is in the bathroom of a dive bar with a guy who killed his wife and a few other guys.
The main criminal, of course, thinks he has the upper hand against an immobile opponent.
He finds out he’s very mistaken when STEM is engaged.

What doesn’t work
The wonder of the first 75 minutes ebbs some as the film winds down. It boils down to being a revenge mystery but getting there was fun.
The twist isn’t unique but it will pose some clout – especially for the unfamiliar.
There are a few stretches where the acting is a bit painful.

The rating
This is a hard R with language and, especially, some violent/gory deaths.

Summing up
It’s always nice to find a movie that’s better than you think it would be. That’s Upgrade.

Next up
Probably Ocean’s 8 but Hereditary is supposed to be the next great horror film.