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Upstream Color – film review

August 16, 2013


Carruth does Malick – with a dash of Cronenberg

Reviewed on Tuesday 13th August 2013

upstream color - amy seimetz - shane carruth

Written, directed and produced by Shane Carruth. Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig and Thiago Martins. Running time: 96 minutes.

A graphic designer named Kris (Amy Seimetz) is infected with a mind-controlling parasite and attempts to break free of her programming. In doing so, she begins a romance with a sacked broker named Jeff (Shane Carruth) – who has also been infected. Together the two set out to find who is responsible and regain control         of their lives.

Nine years since he burst onto the indie scene with his perplexing, yet widely-revered time travel yarn Primer, mathematician-turned-film-auteur Shane Carruth brings us his long-awaited sophomore effort – Upstream Color.

Viewed casually, it would seem easy to become lost and even frustrated by the perceived incoherence of this film. But for those happy to trust Carruth in having something worthwhile to say will come away from Upstream Color with much to discuss and think about. It appears Carruth is quickly establishing himself as the scientist’s filmmaker – in terms of exploring scientific principles in an entertaining fashion – while still adhering to the rules of science as we currently know them.     This attention to detail gives his films an inherent sense of realism which makes the fantastic events that unfold ring true and all the more believable. Whereas Primer uses the principles of physics to explore the concept of time travel, Upstream Color uses biology (particularly the life cycle of an interspecies parasite) to explore the philosophical concept of free will and the idea that self-determination leads to contentment in one’s own life. How this plays out is a reveal best left to unfold naturally on screen – as the various jigsaw pieces begin to lock seamlessly           into place.

Less talky than Primer, Carruth demonstrates with Upstream Color a real flare for pure cinema – relying less on dialog and more on ambient sound and editing to convey his admitedly esoteric – yet engrossing examination of the mysteries of life. Rhythmic sounds from nature are contrasted with rhythmic industrial sounds which themselves are edited together in such a way as to create a larger tapestry     of rhythms. The result is mesmerizing and it’s easy to see why Carruth (along with Johnny Marshall and Pete Horner) was awarded the special jury award for sound design at Sundance this year. Likewise, the editing in this film (credited to Carruth and David Lowery) is spectacularly good, and propels the narrative with an ebb and flow which never feels forced. It is a masterclass in pacing, tone and visual clarity.

Shane Carruth gives another naturalistic performance after his lead role in Primer. And it’s all the more amazing when one considers he had never acted in front of a camera prior to his previous film. And Amy Seimetz is also very good as Kris. The awkward naturalism of the two leads as they fall in love is authentic and believable and is essentially the very glue which binds the film together. It is an authenticity of performance not unlike that displayed by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able in Gareth Edwards’ Monsters in 2010.

While the film may not cater to everyone’s tastes, it will appeal to those familiar with Carruth’s previous work and for lovers of abstract cinema in general – especially those with a liking for such films as Darren Aronofsky’s Pi and Terence Malick’s   Tree Of Life – two polarizing works this film at times resembles.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova East End Cinemas, Adelaide, August 13th 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. Great review. Don’t know about this one – A bit too “thinky” for me. 🙂 The only bit that got my attention, really, was the “dash of Cronenberg”…

    • gregory moss permalink

      Haha! – That’s a great term of phrase, ‘Too thinky’. I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like Cordon Bleu, and other times I feel like ‘Maccas’ (that’s aussie slang for McDonalds) – It all depends on what mood I’m in. 🙂

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