After Primer I was a big believer in Shane Carruth. For those unfamiliar, Primer is a zero budget time-travel movie with exhaustively anal attention to detail. The credits read as follows: Starring Shane Carruth, Directed by Shane Carruth, Produced, edited, music, sound, catering… Shane Carruth. The overnight cinema virtuoso, in Terrence Malick-esque style, disappeared for just long enough that announcing his new film Upstream Colour had us all frothing at the mouth. What on Earth would he come up with this time round? Well, almost ten years later and he’s allowed a couple of other names to creep into the credits of this one, despite still managing to star and earn a camera operating credit.
When a mysterious DIY chemist manages to plant a worm inside of Kris (Seimetz), she becomes completely suggestible to his every command. And if that wasn’t a strong enough rape metaphor for you, she recovers from the trance and meets Shane Carruth’s character, Jeff. Jeff seems also to be a victim of the worm. His idea of romantic persistence when courting this traumatised woman is just plain terrifying. He and all of the characters are severe and pouty throughout the film, which makes for pretty dull viewing.
In a similar way to Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, the coincidence of their meeting leads them on a journey to discovering what has happened to them. At this point, around the thirty minute mark, another credit is due: ‘Only person to understand or care: Shane Carruth’. Identity becomes an illusion and Thoreau’s Walden: A Life In The Woods gains some kind of huge significance.
As Jonah says in his Sundance review, the pouting aloofness of the film is often ridiculous, but it’s occasionally justified by moments of visual flair and sound design that are incredibly effecting. There are points in the film when it feels as though Carruth could move mountains if he’d only pull his head out of his arse. Experimentation is fine but, unlike Jonah, I think that editing was invented so that we could watch the experiments that actually worked out.
Upstream Colour (the title has a fairly literal meaning) looks and sounds the way only an uncompromising perfectionist like Shane Carruth can make a film look and sound. The plot is bold and compelling but not remotely character driven. The characters feel like placeholders for the ideas of the film.
This film stays with you when you leave the cinema. It’s a lot to take in and some of it is just plain aggravating, but chances are there are a couple of images and ideas that will keep at you for a good couple of days after you see this.