Occasionally, a film comes along to make you think and think even more after multiple viewings. Filmmaker Shane Carruth’s new indie project, ‘Upstream Color’ is one of those provocative films. There are many things to admire about Carruth. The first is that you can’t pigeonhole his film into a neat genre category. Another is the fact that Carruth defiantly takes film distribution to another level. This is good news for young independent filmmakers working outside of Hollywood or even Sundance for that matter. Carruth burst on to the scene almost a decade ago with his debut film, ‘Primer’ that won the Sundance 2004 Grand Jury Prize. Hollywood took notice of his talents but he seemed to vanish until now.
When I was a youth, viewing David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ was a mind-bending experience for me. At that moment in time, I realized film can transcend the conventional boundaries of narrative to tell a story. ‘Upstream Color’ gives off that same vibe. Is it sci-fi, horror, a psychological thriller or a love story? It possibly is a mixture of all of these genres combined. You may leave the theatre scratching your head. Carruth makes you work for answers. They don’t come easily. After viewing, it is the perfect film to go to a café with friends and dissect its complex, layered meanings. Hardcore cinephiles will appreciate this abstract film.
Let’s dig into the plot. Fasten your seatbelts. It is out there but stay with me. It is refreshingly original. A yuppie Kris (Amy Seimetz) is kidnapped and forced to ingest a worm by a character known simply as Thief (Thiago Martins). He brainwashes Kris into draining her entire bank account. He also makes her read from transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s self-reliance book, Walden. The use of Walden is a recurring theme throughout the film. When Kris sees something crawling underneath her skin, she understandably freaks out. She is helped by a pig farmer identified in the credits as Sampler (Andrew Sensenig). She recovers and meets up with Jeff (Carruth himself). This is when the film transforms into an intense love story between Kris and Jeff.
The brilliance in the film is Carruth’s one-of-a-kind filmmaking style. He is a former engineer that taught himself cinematography. Technically, it is a beautiful film shot in earthy, bluish-grey tones. It enhances the elements of the plot through meticulous imagery. There are scenes of baby pigs frolicking in a corral, shots of women harvesting orchids, Sampler walking around using sound-recording equipment and Kris diving for rocks in a swimming pool while Jeff reads excerpts from Walden. What does it all mean? It is anyone’s guess. The ingested worms may have something to do with pharmacology and a control of nature. It also touches on the pleasure and plain of interpersonal connections.
Carruth’s choice of Amy Seimetz as his love interest was a wise decision. She is also a filmmaker and her indie project, ‘Sun Don’t Shine’ premiered at SXSW last year. Her understanding of narrative reminds me of another indie darling, Brit Marling who co-wrote and starred in the Sundance hit, ‘Another Earth.’ Seimetz is captivating to watch. The final act of ‘Upstream Color’ is devoid of dialogue but that’s okay. It is a visual feast accompanied by a melodramatic soundtrack. Carruth’s experimental film is brilliant and should not be missed by the discriminating moviegoer.
‘Upstream Color’ premiered at Sundance 2013 and is now available on Cable VOD, Digital, and DVD/Blu-ray through Cinedigm. For more details, please visit http://erbpfilm.com/film/upstreamcolor.