Upstream Color (2013)
Directed By: Shane Carruth
Written By: Shane Carruth
Starrring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig
Reviewed By: Adam Griffith
Method Viewed: Netflix Streaming
Writer Director Shane Carruth (Primer) returns with his second film Upstream Color. A woman (Seimetz) is drugged and abducted by a man who uses a rather unique drugging method. Over a period of several days this drug causes the woman to become highly suscetptible to suggestion. The abductor forces his victim to hand over her stash of gold coins, take out all the equity in her home, empty out all of her bank accounts and pretty much ruins her financial life. For extra fun, she is instructed to transcribe the book Walden (Henry David Thoreau) by hand. While this process is going on she neither sleeps nor eats anything with the exception of glasses of delicious ice water.
When her bank accounts are emptied and the money orders have cleared our victim Kris (Seimetz) is pretty well shattered. Not only is she now destitute but she also loses her job after not showing up for days. Similarly, she is completely freaked out by the entire ordeal and is trying desperately to recall what exactly has happened to her. Traumatized, she is now a shell of her former self and is walking through life in a zombified state in part due the medications she is now taking to deal with the effects of the PTSD she is so obviously suffering from.
While sitting on a subway she meets a stranger named Jeff (Carruth) and it is obvious that the two have a strong attraction to each other. It is only later that we learn that Jeff has also been a victim of this strange abduction method. Are these two simply attracted to each other because they have been abducted and drugged? Is their relationship going to help or hinder their ability to recover from their PTSD? What do these blue orchids have to due with this mysterious drug and its potency? How does The Sampler (Sensenig) and his pig farm fit into this whole puzzle? Perhaps most importantly, will you ever eat bacon again after watching this film?
This is a film that will have you scratching your head trying to piece together what exactly is going on. There is a pervasive feeling of unease during much of the film. While viewing the film it almost feels as if the drug in the film is also affecting you the viewer. Writer/director/actor Carruth manages to create an environment of extreme incertitude that feels very similar to a dream or nightmare state. For those familiar with Carruth’s first film Primer (2004), I would suggest that this film is a bit more approchable. However, that is not to suggest that is any less perplexing as far as the narrative is concerned.
Strong performances by all three leads Seimetz, Carruth and Sensenig coupled with a complex and absorbing story will leave you questioning the nature of our interconnectedness with nature and each other. Furthermore the level of Carruuth’s technical mastery with regards to look of this film versus Primer can not be overempahazised. Whereas his Freshman effort looked at times as if it was shot by someone just out of film school, this film looks closer to Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. Make no mistake Carruth is a auteur in the truest sense of the word.
I urge everyone reading this to give this film a watch as this is one of the most original and impressive films I have viewed this year. The good news is that you can stream this film right now on Netflix. How crazy is that? Well not as crazy as this film but I look forward to hearing what you all think of it. I am giving this film two and half piglets.