Upstream Colour (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/08/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 96 mins

Upstream Colour, writer-director Shane Carruth's long-awaited follow-up to 2004's Primer, is a beautifully shot, skilfully edited head-scratcher of a thriller that offers no easy answers, though the process of trying to figure everything out is an enjoyable one, provided you surrender yourself to the journey in the first place.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Shane Carruth, Upstream Colour begins with an unnamed man (the credits call him The Thief, played by Thiago Martins) cultivating infected blue-tinged grubworms. Later, he forces a young woman (Amy Seimetz as Kris) to ingest one of the worms, which seems to have a brainwashing effect on her, turning her into a willing subject; he later drains her bank account while she sits at home transcribing the whole of Thoreau's Walden and turning the pages into a paper-chain.

When Kris awakes, she finds herself destitute and is mysteriously drawn to a scientist/pig-farmer/sound engineer known as Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who removes the parasites from her body and transfers them to a pig; though ostensibly cured, she subsequently discovers that her ordeal has done devastating damage to her insides. As she starts to rebuild her life, Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), who claims to have been through a similar experience, and the pair begin a tentative relationship while trying to get to the bottom of what happened to them.

The Good
As if the mind-bending plot of Upstream Colour wasn't enough to get your head around, Carruth shoots and edits the film in a correspondingly oblique and borderline experimental style, using multiple close-ups, stunning sound design work, minimal dialogue and what often feels like fragments of scenes, so the audience is constantly having to work hard in order to grasp what's going on; consequently, your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on how far you're prepared to give yourself over to that process.

Needless to say, much like with his previous film, Primer, Carruth isn't interested in providing any easy answers, though the process of trying to work out what it all means is an enjoyable one. In the end, you come away from Upstream Colour feeling you've sort of understood it, though without being able to actually explain it to anybody.

The Great
Performance-wise, Amy Seimetz is superb as Kris and she generates an uneasy chemistry with Carruth, while both Thiago Martins and Andew Sensenig are effectively chilling as the Thief and Sampler, who may or may not be connected. In addition, as well as taking on writing, directing, camera operating and co-editing duties, Carruth also provides a superb, haunting score.

Worth seeing?
Upstream Colour is a film you need to see for yourself, as it is likely to mean something different to everyone who sees it, whether you end up dismissing it as pretentious nonsense or hailing it as experimental genius. That said, it is strikingly well made and undeniably original. Here's hoping Carruth doesn't wait another nine years before making his next film.

Film Trailer

Upstream Colour (15)
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Content updated: 19/07/2018 07:03

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