Upstream Color (2013) **** Sundance London 2013

August 29th, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director/Producer/Writer/:  Shane Caruth

Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Caruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Meredith Burke

96mins   US Sci-fi Drama

Shane Caruth is a director of sci-fi films and Upstream Color is his second feature. He produces, lenses, scores (highly originally) and also acts here as Jeff, a man whose loose connection to a woman called Kris (Amy Seimetz) arises after they are both seemingly the victims of a radical medical experiment.


Technically brilliant and boldly photographed, Upstream Color follows an arcane narrative that has you back-footed and bewildered for most of its 96 minutes. It’s also a challenging and hypnotic piece of experimental filmmaking, the like of which you probably won’t experience again in 2013.

Many may even call it a love story between two people so linked and drawn together by a damaging past that they are destined to spend the future together, eventually accepting one another through force of circumstance.

There’s also an animal testing element to the film, that’s less appealing, involving what appears to be a piglet whose reproduce organs are removed and replaced with those of Kris, so it appears to gestate a piglet derived from her own genetic material.

The story sounds bizarre with the telling in a vacuum without the benefit of its dazzlingly edited images but, suffice to say, this is a film to experience and one which you will either embrace or reject due to its unorthodox nature.

Loosely, Kris finds herself the unwitting subject of a strange medical experiment at the hands of a thief (Thiago Martins) and is forced to eat a strange bug which then grows inside her and robs her of her mind. After losing all her savings, she then undergoes further intervention involving a pig owned by ‘the man’ (Andrew Sensenig). Eventually she meets Caruth, who appears to be connected to her through experiencing a similar trauma in the past. They share a visceral relationship that makes no sense to the outsider, communicating in a disconnected dialogue but remain bonded closely for the remainder of the film, possibly through a human need to make order out of chaos and to relate to each other in what is otherwise a lonely and isolating situation.

The leads gives strong performances expressing the deep trauma they have gone through but this is not in any way an emotionally affecting film nor does it make a strong dramatic impact. The only feeling it illicits is one of perplexity. Upstream Color actually makes haunting, soulless and rather uncomfortable viewing despite its potent visual appeal and imposing metallic score. It is nevertheless required viewing. MT


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