Kris (Seimetz) is attacked by a thief (Martins), who makes her eat a grub which affects her mind so she empties her accounts for him then forgets about it. The Sampler (Sensenig) harvests the grub, and transplants it into a pig... Kris meets Jeff (Carruth), another victim. They join forces to find out what’s going on.
Shane Carruth is one of the most innovative and interesting genre filmmakers around at the moment... and yet he’s a tough sell, because so much of the story of his two films to date (his first was the micro-budget 2004 time-travel picture Primer) takes place in a headspace between the viewer and the film.
Working on a low budget, if on a scale far beyond Primer, Carruth does everything — writes, produces, directs, acts, composes, photographs, edits — and has a control over his work probably unique in contemporary cinema. Upstream Colour benefits from the central performance of name-to-watch Amy Seimetz (as good as
she was in Dungeon breakout A Horrible Way To Die). Carruth favours a deadpan acting style — hushed and whispery whenever anyone is talking — and incorporates cycles and repetitions into his storyline (it’s no accident that paper chains are a recurrent image). The film’s attention is sometimes caught by odd, mechanical processes that dovetail with the mental loops its characters are stuck in.
Making you feel and think more than one thing at once is part of the strategy, so it’s possible to get frustrated at the blanks while responding to the beauties. Carruth’s distinctive, elliptical editing style (imagine a Terrence Malick film edited by Roger Corman, so three hours of languor is ruthlessly cut down to 96 fast-cut minutes) marches through a story which keeps turning back on itself (Carruth’s most mainstream credit is as sci-fi consultant on Looper) as it blends Philip K. Dick or David Cronenberg-like ideas into something fresh.
How to sum up? You have to make synapse-spark connections, interpret events to your own satisfaction, pick up visual cues (a long stretch of the film is dialogue-free) and be happy with not knowing all the answers (you know, like in life — but not in most motion pictures). A perfectly judged, strikingly beautiful film, but also a lunatic enterprise which invites — even welcomes — befuddlement as much as wonder. A true original.
Reviewed by Kim Newman