Viewed at the 2013 Sydney Film Festival
Upstream Color is an illusive, poetic, posthumous investigation into the resonating echoes of a trauma. The trauma in question is harder to pin down. A bio engineer harvesting larvae with psychoactive agents kidnaps a random woman Kris (Amy Seimetz); and impregnates her with a manipulative parasite to extort her. The extortion is a palimpsest; one mind manipulation technique stacked atop another until the victim hits psychological rock bottom. Once the deed is done, another man (his remote accomplice one assumes) harvests the parasites from the victim with an awaiting animal (pig) replacement host – leaving a psychologically damaged broken shell of a person to attempt to go on. In the dizzying, directionless remnants of her life Kris meets another lost soul in Jeff (Shane Carruth), who lives a transient ghostly existence in the wake of insider trading. Kris and Jeff are drawn together; has he been victimised too?
Upstream Color is sensory overload. Carruth’s camera on the one hand wants to nurture; it’s tender and subjective to Kris’ increasingly fragile grip on reality. Yet there’s a willingness to be immersed in the grime of cultivating botany, or callow torture in such a way that you can feel the grit beneath the finger nails of the characters. Carruth measures the dose of clues to the story’s reality like you (the audience) is having interval doses of eye drops applied. Just as you blink clarity onto the situation another drop pushes you back into that frustrating blur, with the reassurance that it’s clarity isn’t far away.
Amy Seimetz’s performance is heartbreakingly good. She’s laboured with all of the relatable day job pressures as you’re introduced to her. Deadlines, workload, indecisive clients abound. It’s only while she’s out to blow off some steam that she’s caught in this venus fly trap. You watch Kris get unmade with such calm and casual precision. Seimetz plays the distance of hypnosis with muted detachment. She’s a meat puppet on strings to the incredibly pensive antagonist. It’s compelling to watch as the puzzle piece clues of her lost time begin to form and realisation beckons. Carruth’s Jeff feels like he’s just the right polarity for Kris’ magnetic. While he’d usually be the outsider in a ‘normal’ encounter, Kris’ other worldly nature brings him back to earth with an insatiable curiosity to uncover his lover’s origins.
As the revelatory moments unfolded the whole story (as this reviewer interpreted it) did not quite live up to the sum of its parts. That’s not to say that you’ve got an “I see dead people” twist waiting that fundamentally has you reinterpret the goings on up to that point; just that the conclusion didn’t take me to the heights that the build up promised.
Upstream Color‘s mystery paralysed me. Its frightening human elements amplified the stretch toward bio-sci-fi. Stay away if you’re not one for poetic, exciting, fresh and ambiguous cinema.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Shane Carruth
Written by: Shane Carruth
Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig
Released in Australia TBA