Upstream Color, director Shane Carruth’s follow-up to his indie breakout Primer, is a labyrinth of a movie, immersing its audience into a complex world. Primer dealt with many of the same themes as Upstream Color, but seems much smaller compared to Carruth’s sophomore effort.
Unlike Primer, Upstream Color doesn’t have a linear narrative, instead taking a surreal, dream-like pace. I’ll be honest that I have little idea what happened in Upstream Color, but I’ll try to sum up the story as best I can. A man (known in the credits as “Thief” and played by Thiago Martins) harvests some worm-like creatures, which he puts in a medical capsule and feeds to Kris (Amy Seimeitz), who becomes hypnotized by him. Thief controls Kris completely, what she sees, feels, and so on. Soon another man (known as “The Sampler” and played by Andrew Sensenig) performs surgery on Kris and a pig, creating a mental link between them and freeing her from the brain control. Later, Kris meets Jeff (Carruth), whom she develops a romance with.
Upstream Color is a film I feel needs to be taken in slowly. It’s clear that the film has a far larger budget than Primer, as evident by more locations and greater production values. Carruth’s direction has also improved much over his freshman movie; the camera movements are smoother, the cuts are more refined, and the pacing more even. He approaches Upstream Color much differently than Primer. Where he bombarded viewers with much dialogue and information in Primer, in Upstream Color Carruth never fully explains what’s going, seeming much like a dream itself. It may be difficult for viewers to connect to Carruth’s characters, but, like Primer, I found myself amazed by the material. Carruth knows what fascinates his fans and plays off the mystery of the story. Upstream Color may not always know what it’s completely about, but it never fails to entertain.
Perhaps it gets a bit out of hand, but Upstream Color is a superb, intelligent thriller that proves Carruth is a great talent at blending sci-fi with realism. It’ll be interesting to see what the director has in store next.