If there is a soul behind the voice of the machine in Upgrade it is probably 55% K.I.T., from Knight Rider and 45% Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. STEM, essentially a micro chip implanted in the spine of old 70’s-80’s muscle car restorer Grey Trace (poor man Tom Hardy clone Logan Marshall-Green providing the linking David Hasselhoff aura) is voiced by Aussie actor Simon Maiden with a tone that balances the soothing/malevolent dichotomy that is Upgrade’s off-kilter essence.
Director and writer Leigh Whannell, the gore meister and spectral presence behind the Saw and Insidious franchises provides the requisite body horror in a sci-fi plot that embeds Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a revenge film into a smartly observed coding on the monsters created when analog mankind is forced to live in the digital divide.
STEM and Grey interact like the warring partners of buddy cop movies. Grey’s mechanical fighting style is an echoing homage to Jackie Chan’s comedic martial arts glory days.
“Your memories are full of 1’s and 0’s,” Grey remarks to STEM, “While ours are full of every fuck up we ever done,” summing up Upgrade’s synthesis.
Upgrade knows that any story must fail in the past if it wants to have a future.
Who knows if mankind can create and embrace a digital utopia. All that is certain is that sci-fi movies never will.