Upstream Color – Review ★★★


Micro budget films are rarely seen by mass audiences, but Primer, a sci-fi film made for just $7000 broke the mould when it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004, and went on to take 6 figures at the box office. Its director was Shane Carruth, a recent maths graduate who had taken to studying physics, and wanted to make a film about the possibility of time travel. His experimental plot structure and the philosophical implications of what he had created made for a completely original film, that many critics commented was the best sci-fi film since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and has since gone on to become a cult hit.

His long awaited second film is Upstream Color, which is already being lauded as another work of genius with rave reviews coming from Sundance for its technically brilliant score and elusive beauty.

However, Upstream Color is a film many people may struggle to connect with given its loose narrative that encourages the viewer to decide what’s going on. Added to this is are a selection of odd central characters, whose identity crisis’s make them difficult to connect with. Throw in some pigs and maggots and you’re pretty much there. Confused? This film is not just abstract, it’s positively vague.

In the beginning, men work in the garden, looking through maggots for the ‘perfect one’. Next, they feed it to make it fatter and put it inside an empty pill capsule. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is leaving her office when she is attacked, pushed to the ground and is force-fed the pill. When she wakes up the next day, she is in a state of hypnosis, being controlled by a mysterious man. He gives her specific instructions to make paper chains and drink water in tiny sips. Days later he asks her to sign over all her life’s savings and she complies. When he leaves her and she wakes up, she finds there is a long worm crawling underneath her skin. Another strange man then abducts her and connects her body to that of a pigs and exchanges bodily fluid between them.

But reducing the film to its narrative is not what is intended here. Carruth, who also stars in the film as another victim of abduction, creates an alternative reality, where identity is an illusion and building a connection to nature is paramount to understanding the human spirit.

Pretentious or profound, many people may still be impressed with Upstream Color from the technical engineering involved. Dense sound and picture editing make for a stimulating visual and aural feast, but whether you can appreciate this while watching drowning piglets is another question.

One thing’s for sure, this director’s name is becoming synonymous with innovative concepts and ideas.

Flossie Topping is the former Editor-in-Chief of Critics Associated (2013-2015).