STACK paid a visit to the Melbourne set of Leigh Whannell’s new sci-fi thriller, and discovered technology running amok.
It’s a scorching February afternoon in Melbourne, and behind the urban facade of downtown Collingwood, in a Polytechnic warehouse, the future is being created. And it’s a strange world. At the end of a gloomy corridor illuminated by discarded glowsticks and littered with empty pill bottles is a room resembling a drug den. Only it isn’t narcotics that are being consumed here – IV drips sit in a corner, ready to nourish the VR addicts who lose themselves in a virtual world for weeks at a time.
STACK is on the set of Upgrade (under the working title STEM), a sci-fi action-thriller written and directed by Saw and Insidious co-creator Leigh Whannell and starring Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus), Betty Gabriel (Get Out), and Benedict Hardie (Hacksaw Ridge).
Melbourne is doubling as the near-future city where technophobe Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) has been left a quadriplegic following a violent encounter with a pair of bioweapon-equipped thugs, who also murdered his wife.
A young tech genius (Harrison Gilbertson) comes to Grey’s rescue, using him as the guinea pig for a top-secret experimental computer implant, STEM, that not only restores the use of his limbs, but also turns him into a killing machine able to exact revenge on his wife’s killers. Fighting against a body that is no longer his, Marshall-Green rose to the challenge of being the puppet of this AI master.
“My first reaction was fear of this character,”Marshall-Green tells STACK, ”which means I really liked it. But I knew it was going to be a lot of work, given the stakes and emotion this guy has to deal with. It was going to need every ounce of my theatrical ability.
“It’s really several different roles,” he continues. “There’s an opportunity to play the anti-hero from the neck up and the superhero from the neck down. I hadn’t seen or read that before, and I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. There’s a computer talking to him and controlling his body – he makes the decision to raise his hand but it goes through a middleman, which is STEM.
“But I knew there could be an emotional journey, and on top of that, a buddy movie, which it evolved into as we shot it. It’s been a really wild ride.”
Joining STACK during a break in shooting is Betty Gabriel, who plays the detective investigating the murder of Grey’s wife. A self-proclaimed sci-fi fan, she promises Whannell’s venture into the genre will be something quite unique.
“I thought it was pretty exciting that Leigh was venturing into another genre, but he still brings his raw horror elements into it. There’s going to be a lot of blood.”
Gabriel’s character shares Grey’s aversion to technology, with the actress admitting she’s a bit of a Luddite herself. “I just can’t be bothered to really understand how to maximise my disc drive, if that’s how you say it? I like Twitter and Instagram, but I also like to detach myself from it.”
A co-production with American genre stable Blumhouse (The Purge, Get Out), Upgrade marks Whannell’s second feature as director following Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) and his first shoot back on home soil, having been based in the US for the last 10 years.
“Upgrade is set in an unnamed American city; it’s kind of a noirish film, and Melbourne fitted what Leigh was looking for,” says local producer Kylie Du Fresne (The Sapphires).
“This is the first time Blumhouse has made a film in Australia, and because of his training and the kind of films he’s been making in Hollywood, Leigh really understands genre and commercial beats – all the things you need for a wide release film of the type Blumhouse makes.
“Upgrade is an Australian film,” she adds, “and you don’t normally get to make films like this here. Next week we close down the freeway in Craigieburn for a big car chase – it’s exciting.”
Upgrade is in cinemas June 14.
Watch the red band here (LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE WARNING)…