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Soundtrack review: Upgrade (Jed Palmer – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Upgrade (Jed Palmer – 2018)

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“Upgrade” is a 2018 science fiction action body horror film written and directed by Leigh Whannell. A co-production between Australia and the United States, it stars Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, and Harrison Gilbertson. The film follows a man who is implanted with a chip that allows him to control his body after a mugging leaves him paralyzed. Jason Blum serves as a producer through his Blumhouse Productions banner. Leigh Whannell is the creator of the “Saw” franchise so I trust his work. Jed Palmer wrote the score.

My expectations for this score are pretty high considering the topic, it demands an electronic composition. It opens with “Old neighborhood”, a dark and uncomfortable piece that leaves no doubt as to how this story will play out. The surprise comes at the end when the music morphs into a shinny melody. Maybe it’s the one ray of hope or joy from this score, because we dive right back into that minimalistic and menacing texture with “Aftermath”. Then it gets really questionable in “The procedure”, a cue that no doubt sparks the old debate about how much film music should serve the movie itself and how much the standalone listening experience; as you know if you’ve read my articles I am all for experimental and weird music but if it makes me feel something. A cue like “The procedure” is too cold to enjoy outside the context of the movie, the sonic experiments are too sparse even for one who enjoys listening to the pioneers of electronic music. Luckily Jed Palmer hits the right synth buttons in the second half of the cue and goes for that reflective mood I love. But I can already see the melody lovers frowning and cursing at this piece.

There’s a constant alert pace in this score, and the calm, broad passages are very scarce; there’s always that sensation of something clicking, of something measuring, of something ticking. The score is interesting to listen to and it gives me an idea about how the movie will feel. Jed Palmer experiments with combining different sounds, like guitars, chimes, electronic sound effects. Sometimes though the music is too uncomfortable to enjoy on its own as it lacks any kind of warmth.

“Upgrade” is a visceral sonic experiment that brings the discomfort of the movie into the score. The moments when I can enjoy the music on its own are few but I surely understand the composer’s choices and his commitment to the story.

Cue rating: 51 / 100

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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