Upstream Color Movie Review
Too-clever filmmaker Shane Carruth'sfascinating 2004 time-travel thriller Primer was confusing enough, but he goes a step further with this utterly impenetrable freak-out mystery. It looks amazing, and is packed with eerily resonant themes and feelings, but Carruth never tries to make the narrative coherent, challenging us to make sense of the vivid visual and audio textures.
Here's what it seems to be about: Kris (Seimetz) is a young woman who has her life upended when a thief (Martins) gives her a hypnotic drug then tells her to give him everything she owns. When she wakes up, she has to piece her life together from scratch. She's also now strangely drawn to Jeff (Carruth), a guy she sees on the train during her daily commute. And as they begin a tentative romance, they start to feel that something bigger is going on around them. While trying to figure out who is controlling their life, they encounter a sound recordist (Sensenig) who has a pen of piglets that seem to be a clue to what's going on.
Frankly, anyone who watches this film would probably piece together the premise in a different way. Without a clear plot or consistent characters, it's impossible to know what's happening: everything is a mystery. But the film is so precisely put together that we know Carruth is telling his story exactly as he wants to. The sound mix is especially beautiful, while the cinematography captures stunning imagery that keeps us watching even if we're not sure what we're looking at. And the actors are strong enough to convey their emotions, so at least we know how they feel about whatever's happening.
As the film progresses through its mercifully short running time, Carruth weaves in and out of various timelines and plot strands, dropping hints and making connections while also further throwing us off the scent. Is the recordist some sort of supreme being caring for mankind? Or is he some sort of demon or alien being trying to control humanity by collecting sounds, worms, plants, people and, yes, pigs? At least Carruth builds a sure-handed sense of emotional suspense to keep us gripped. And even if it leaves us scratching our heads in confusion, this surreal movie is so challenging that it's impossible to forget.