Review first published by Film4.
Synopsis: Shane Carruth’s second feature is an artful experiment in audience-addling alienation.
Review: “I told you a story, and then you’ve taken it and made it your own – you do this all the time.”
Kris (Amy Seimetz) is telling off Jeff (Shane Carruth) for confusing her childhood memory (of nearly drowning) with his – but this is only one of many confusions in a film full of mesmerism, deja vu, metempsychosis and parasitism. For in Upstream Colour, feelings are vicarious, thoughts are surrogate, and experiences are had by (porcine) proxy, as these bewildered lovers, having unwittingly ingested a mind-altering grub, struggle to reclaim their fractured sense of identity
After tying viewers’ brains in knots with his time-travel debut Primer (2004), polyhyphenate filmmaker Carruth returns to the theme of multiplied identity with a feature that, for all its strict chronological ordering, continues to confound with a set of parallel narratives whose precise interrelationship remains stunningly oblique. Carruth eschews easy exposition, instead deploying staccato editing, story-leaping match cuts, cool framing and organic sound design to hypnotise viewers into making their own connections between all his oneiric riffing – even if the actual explanatory frame, divulged by Carruth in interviews and readily available online, seems something of a pig in a poke compared to the wilder places to which this film’s free associations might take us.
Still, even if the film’s Lynch-like psychogenic fugue comes with a microbial solution of sorts, there is greater pleasure to be had in losing yourself (much as Kris does) to the throbbing ebb and flow of its motifs and ideas, as they get right under the skin. What could be better, after all, than to make Carruth’s story your own?
In A Nutshell: Carruth’s mindmelt of mesmerism, metempsychosis and micro-organisms will leave some a little cold, most bemused if not utterly baffled, and near all needing to see it a second time.