There's no denying we live in a digital age. Advancements in technology have transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, dictating our social interactions, infiltrating our psyches, all in the name of making things easier. But technology isn't just part of our daily reality. It has also been treated as a muse, inspiring culture in the forms of books, television, music, art, and more. Of course, the film industry has been no exception. Movies like I, Robot and Wall-E included.
A new sci-fi film from director Legh Whannell does this, too: the very visceral, action-packed thriller titled Upgrade out now. The film takes place in the near future and centers on the life of Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) a self-described technophobe. After a crazy turn of events, he ultimately has to rely on the technology he so adamantly detests in order to right the wrongs of many, seeking revenge with the help of an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.
But this isn't your average run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller. Upgrade also functions as a cautionary tale against our ever-growing dependency on tech. Whannell paints a very real portrait of what our future could actually look like, one that is both beautiful and equally terrifying.
L’Officiel USA spoke with Whannell about Upgrade, tech, film reviews, and more.
Where did the name Upgrade come from?
In the movie, the bad guy refers to people that have tech inside their bodies as "The upgraded," so [it came from] this idea of upgraded people. I didn't want to make a robot film. Robot films have been done many times before—and done really well—but I felt like another robot movie wouldn’t necessarily say anything new. What was interesting to me was a film about human beings and tech in their bodies. I actually think there will come a point where we could upgrade ourselves.
Going off on that, what parts of our present inspired this futuristic world we see on screen?
A lot of it was influenced by where we are now. Automated cars, Alexa, Siri, all this stuff is pretty common now so I wanted the film to feel like it was just around the corner. What I didn't want to do was make a Blade Runner-esque vision of the future. I made sure that the tech in the film was springboarded from ideas that are pretty common now like smart homes and smart kitchens. It's really about human beings letting tech control too much of our lives. There's sort of an anxiety in the world today that has been spurred on by these devices we hold and slavishly devote ourselves to.
Can you tell me more about the whole vigilante/police relationship in the film? All I could think was "Damn, even in the future the police don't really do shit."
Yeah! [Laughs] They have been automated as well. In the film, the character that Betty Gabriel plays is one of the last detectives to actually use her own instinct and isn't just relying on phones and surveillance footage. So, I wanted that police scenario to quick back to that scene as well of this automation and then delegating our daily lives to computers. I wanted that to be just as prevalent there.
[In the film,] Cortez (Betty Gabriel) and Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) are kind of kindred spirits. They're both old souls in this super digitized, modern world. They are examples of two people that still like to connect with other human beings. They look people in the eye when they talk to them, they're patient, they listen, and these are qualities that are disappearing fast. I think our attention spans are disappearing within tech, and I wanted the detective character to be this relic for a time when people actually did listen and focus and had an attention span longer than six seconds.