Last week I watched Venom and Upgrade, which I enjoyed very much. They are two films with similar premises. I call them bodyjacking films. What I mean by this is that a character, usually the protagonist, has their body taken over by something so they are no longer in complete control.
This is a well-worn path in science fiction, and it includes films like The Fly and The Happening. What makes Venom and Upgrade so interesting is that they represent the purist form of the bodyjacking genre, which is where ‘something’ takes residence in the body and lives with the host as a kind of symbiotic relationship. Moreover, they epitomise two different aspects of this form: one is about an organism (Venom) taking residence in the body, and the other is about a machine (STEM) taking residence in the body.
In this article, for clarity, I will call the organism or machine that hijacks the body the parasite.
The films compared
I’ll now compare and contrast the two films:
In both films, the host begins the ‘relationship’ at a very low point in their life.
In both films the parasite makes the host stronger, faster, more deadly than any human. It effectively makes them superhuman. As such, both films are action films.
In both films, the parasite can communicate with the host. The host hears the parasite talking to them in their head.
In both films, the parasite can completely take over the body so that the host is reduced to an observer. I thought the actors playing the hosts did brilliantly acting surprised and taken aback by their bodies’ actions!
In Venom, the parasite is an alien creature that cannot survive in our atmosphere without a host. Contrastingly, in Upgrade the host is a quadriplegic who cannot walk or move their limbs without the machine parasite.
In Venom, the parasite begins the relationship as morally bad, or at least not ostensibly good. The parasite becomes more good as the film progresses and helps to save Earth. The film ends on a positive note. In Upgrade, the parasite begins the relationship as morally good, or at least not ostensibly bad. The parasite becomes more bad (or is revealed to be more bad) as the film progresses and commits more and more heinous acts. The film ends on a negative note.
In Venom the parasite is an unwitting pawn, a ‘labrat’ of a scientific organisation. It meets its host by chance and has to respond to events as they occur. In Upgrade the parasite directs events and uses the scientific organisation that creates it as a pawn. It selects its host and ensures they come together.
In Venom, when the parasite takes control, it manifests itself in physical form over the human body. In Upgrade, the parasite cannot manifest itself in physical form.
The parasite, Venom, has a very gravelly foreboding voice which fits the fact that it is not your classic ‘goody two shoes’ superhero. The voice gets softer and less threatening as the film goes on which again fits the fact that Venom becomes morally good by the end of the film. In contrast, STEM has a soft, non threatening voice to begin which only really takes on a hard edge at the end of the film when we see his true colours.
At the end of Venom, the human and parasite are in partnership with respect to the body and mind, but at the end of Upgrade, the parasite has completely taken over the body and the human is absent, having receded to a corner of his mind.
Structurally, I thought that Upgrade was superior to Venom in that in the former, the parasite melded with the host much earlier in the film so we got to enjoy the action and the interplay between host and parasite for much longer. In fact, I thought the first half of Venom was weaker than the second for this very reason.
Upgrade has a plot which will be familiar to most filmgoers because it has been done many times. It is a classic revenge action plot. Yes, there is a twist in that the wronged protagonist has an ally/sidekick who is actually inside them but the bones of the revenge action plot are clearly there. The fact that the people killed by the protagonist are ‘bad’ and murdered his wife makes it ‘okay’ for us to enjoy the action and violence, although methinks STEM enjoys it a bit toooo much.
The plot of Venom seemed more original to me, but maybe that’s because I don’t watch many superhero films. Come to think of it, the plot of having to stop an evil villain destroying the Earth is just as standard as the revenge plot of Upgrade but the way it was done seemed fresher. The anti-hero aspect of the host and the parasite who are both ‘losers’ was interesting. Having said all that, I enjoyed Upgrade more than Venom. I didn’t think it was good when Venom beat up and probably killed a load of police in the lobby of the TV company. At least the host stopped him eating them! I guess you can’t have everything.
I thought this was very good in both films. The lead actors did great in my opinion. But this wasn’t a film with strong female roles unfortunately – I suppose the policewoman in Upgrade was a fairly strong role but she didn’t get much screen time, and the ex-girlfriend in Venom was fairly generic. The parasites shone hugely, which was a big feat for STEM considering he was just a voice. I liked the appearance and attitude of Venom.
So that’s all for now! Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!