When Shane Carruth came along in 2004 with Primer he immediately showed that he was quite a talented guy. He wrote, directed, produced, edited and even composed the music for his remarkable debut, a movie that made up for limited resources with an abundance of intelligence and thought-provoking moments. The fact that he’s done the same again, in just as many roles, with Upstream Colour is as infuriating as it is satisfying. I’m all for pacing yourself, Mr. Carruth, but when the films are this good we want more than one every nine years.
Upstream Colour (or Upstream Color to our American readership) is another cerebral slice of cinema that takes something potentially quite amazing and shows the dark side of it. This time there are some plants that can be used to make some drugs and when those drugs are put into the system of the recipient that person can then become completely in synch with a similarly-treated partner. Unfortunately, the drug can also be used to make someone extremely susceptible to any instruction. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is drugged and held prisoner, despite seeming to have freedom, while she is instructed to help obtain money for the man controlling her. When the ordeal is over, after an operation that seems to remove the controlling influence of the drug, Kris ends up having to try and piece her life together. She has some serious issues, understandably, and gets put on some serious medication. She also, however, eventually meets a man named Jeff (Shane Carruth). The two get on great, after a bit of a rocky start, but it soon becomes clear that they have shared a past trauma. Meanwhile, a man (Andrew Sensenig) who samples sounds and looks after pigs is also proving to be quite influential on Kris and Jeff, even if they don’t realise it.
As equally mesmerising as Primer was, Upstream Colour is more cinematic in its use of sound, colour (of course), patterns and visuals. The acting is perfect for the development of the story, with the two leads not quite natural and at ease onscreen and therefore always giving the impression that their mental states are slightly troubled, to say the least. Andrew Sensenig often just has to wear headphones and make different sounds when he’s not dealing with the pigs and he does just fine. There are a lot of other people in the movie (including Thiago Martins as a thief and Katy Carruth, billed as “Orchid Mother”), but there’s no denying that all of the rhythms, recurring motifs and movements of the movie serve to remind viewers that everything being shown is also directly tied in to the two main characters.
While Primer was as dark and disturbing as it was interesting and fun, Upstream Colour is as beautiful and strangely romantic as it is ugly and angry. It seems that Shane Carruth has a knack for blending material in a way that juxtaposes opposing imagery while never losing the core running from start to finish. That is his major talent, and that is why I will keep looking forward to any movie that he makes. However long I have to wait.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: SHANE CARRUTH
STARS: AMY SEIMETZ, SHANE CARRUTH, ANDREW SENSENIG, THIAGO MARTINS, KATHY CARRUTH
RUNTIME: 96 MINS APPROX