SXSW Interview: ‘UPGRADE’ raises more concern for the future of tech


Preston Barta // Features Editor

As normal as it’s becoming that computers, gadgets and cars are beginning to do all the heavy lifting in our lives, it’s still scary to think about all the possibilities of how technology will grow. Many films venture down these avenues and whether it’s the world being overrun by artificial intelligence or the act of uploading your consciousness to the web for fear of dying, the line between science fiction and reality is becoming increasingly blurred.

Leigh Whannell, writer-director of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, doesn’t claim that next big-budget genre film that will quickly fade. From the first few minutes of his deliciously spare sci-fi film, UPGRADE, it’s apparent he has assembled a thoughtful human drama that uses its big concepts not solely as a vehicle for action or mind-bending plot mechanics, but to also ask some vast ethical questions about power and our existence.

Set in a not-so-distant future, UPGRADE showcases the world driven by technology. It’s everywhere and steers our way of life to the point you’d almost expect Pixar’s WALL-E to roll up. But it’s more than people just having the best tech on the market. It also can be found within us. Instead of humankind creating robots to do their activities, they can put microchips in their bodies and equip themselves with firearms that, quite literally, turn your arms into gun blasters.

Earlier this month at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, we sat down with Whannell and stars Betty Gabriel (GET OUT) and Logan Marshall-Green (PROMETHEUS) to discuss their limitations with technology and the concept of having an implant in your body.

Our interview:

UPGRADE is scheduled for release by Blumhouse Tilt on June 1.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.