Upstream Color is director Shane Carruth’s follow up to his excellent and mind-bending film, Primer. If you haven’t seen Primer, stop reading this review immediately and go watch it—I’ll wait. Are you back now? It’s really awesome, right?! Carruth went in a different direction with Upstream Color, eschewing science fiction for something more metaphysical and surreal. The basic premise is there is an organism that when introduced into a host human’s body, renders the person highly susceptible to suggestion. A woman becomes victim to one of the parasites and has to pick up the broken pieces of her life in the aftermath. The story does progress into a deconstructed love story as well, but I definitely would not categorize it as a romance film.
This film is absolutely beautiful to watch. Every moment is captured perfectly and as much of it takes place outdoors, there is gorgeous nature shots interspersed throughout. There isn’t much dialogue and what is there will be confusing initially It’s almost like a silent film. You cannot take what you see happening in this film literally as nothing will make sense that way. There is a lot of heavy symbolism going on and while that can be used as a cop-out for telling a coherent story, I feel as though Carruth had a strong idea of what he was exactly trying to convey.
Carruth did the score for Upstream Color as well and it is lush and ethereal. The sound production is excellent and the ambient noise almost becomes a character and contributes heavily to the story. The main male lead is played by the director himself and he does an excellent job—I am impressed that he chose to do so many things personally with this film and excelled at all of them. Amy Seimetz puts in an incredible performance as the shattered parasite victim and she plays the role of a broken woman with grace and vulnerability.
I will say that this movie can be very obtuse at times and you will struggle to figure out what is going on, however, it is worth the effort because the message is so profound. It has much to do with cycles and the breaking of said cycles to better oneself as a person. How you cannot let outside forces control your actions no matter how much power they appear to have? This film will make you think and everyone will have a different idea of what it means to them. Some people will be turned off by this and you definitely have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it and it will require your full undivided attention. If you enjoyed Carruth’s previous film Primer, then Upstream Color is worth a look.
-Review by Michelle Kisner