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Movie Review: Upstream Color

This review contains strong language, as well as moderate spoilers for the film.

And you thought Primer was confusing…

ea_uc_posterLook, I’m not going to lie to you: I had no fucking clue what was going on for most of the first half of Upstream Color, the second feature film from director Shane Carruth. But I’ll try to explain as best I can.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) is tasered and drugged at a club. The drug puts her into a hypnotic state and her attacker ruins her life. A year later, she’s just getting her shit together when she meets Jeff (Carruth), a guy who has secrets of her own. Kris and Jeff fall in love, but they then discover that they both have fallen victim to the same drug and their memories begin melding together. Interspersed in this is a weird-looking guy who keeps taking audio samples and who also helps to save Kris’s life at one point. In the end, Jeff and Kris join forces with others victimized by the drug and work to save animals that the audio sampling guy probably would’ve killed.

Yeah. I didn’t get it either.

Still, Upstream Color was highly-regarded, positively-reviewed, and multiply-awarded, so I figured it was worth a shot. And as long as you go into it not expecting to understand what’s going on, you’ll probably enjoy it. Amy Seimetz does a fabulous job with her facial expressions and body movements, and Carruth does pretty much everything else — writer, actor, director, composer, editor, and more. The chemistry between them grows with time, and they are believable as a couple, although I think a lot of that is due to the cinematic techniques Carruth uses — especially the way he cuts and edits scenes together.

I think whether or not you see this film depends upon what you like. If you’re a casual movie-watcher who likes to see things blow up and enjoyed Armageddon because you didn’t have to think too hard about oil-rig workers destroying an asteroid, Upstream Color probably isn’t the movie for you. If you like thoughtful science fiction with understandable plots, this probably isn’t the movie for you. If you liked Primer, this might be the movie for you, but be warned that Upstream Color is even more confusing.

So who is the intended audience for this movie? I have no idea. I mean, what the hell, give it a shot; it’s only about an hour and a half long, and as of this writing it’s on Netflix. Maybe you’ll be the intended audience.

As for me, I’m going to continue swimming upstream. Maybe there’ll be something more suited to me there.

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Note to Parents: This film contains adult language, violence toward animals, and some truly squicky gross-out moments. I would say that younger teens shouldn’t see this one, although you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children. And honestly this film is often so incomprehensible that I doubt your kids would be able to sit through it anyway.

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About the Author

Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.

Comments (3)

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  1. Rendall says:

    It helps to know that the ‘drug’ is actually a parasite that has a life-cycle of orchid -> human -> pig. There is a thief who uses this parasite to induce extreme suggestibility in people, and then he commands them to turn over all of their money. The victims have an emotional/psychological/psychic connection with each other.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      Right, and I got that part of it (except for the life-cycle thing). It’s just… I wish the film had been more coherent, so that I could have enjoyed it more. I don’t need to be told everything, but this was a bit too high-concept for me.

  2. C W says:

    I join your assessment that this thing I didn’t fully understand was good. Like eating delicious foreign food for the first time, I enjoyed it and I will figure out what it was at a future date.

    “And honestly this film is often so incomprehensible that I doubt your kids would be able to sit through it anyway.”

    Brilliant, and applies to many written works as well.