Upstream Color Review

Posted: December 15, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

upstream-color-1Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The 2004 micro-budget film Primer is one of the most highly praised science-fiction film in recent memory. I personally don’t love it as much as most, but it is a good film which clearly struck a chord with science-fiction fans. The film is a unique and believable take on time travel with a complex plot. The film was the debut work of Shane Caruth, who wrote, directed, starred in, scored, edited, and produced the film. Caruth received considerable praise for all of his work but then dropped off the map for a while. After so many years, Caruth returned earlier in 2013 with Upstream Color, another film considered highly complex which received a lot of praise from its limited audience.

While Upstream Color is confusing, it’s a different kind of confusing than Primer. Primer was hard to follow because of its complex plot. Upstream Color is confusing because the film is designed more to be interpreted then to be taken literally. It’s a film of abstract ideas being represented by a story. Because of this, writing a plot synopsis is not easy, but I’ll give it a shot. The film begins with Kris (Amy Seimetz) being kidnapped and placed under hypnosis by an unknown man (Thiago Martins). The man proceeds to steal all of her money by hypnotizing her into emptying her bank accounts. Additionally, the man places some sort of parasite inside her before eventually placing it in a pig. Eventually, the man lets Kris go, who has no memory of any of this. She loses her job and her life begins to fall apart. One day, she meets a man named Jeff (Shane Caruth) who she seems how feels connected to. They begin to see each other and gradually begin to realize they’re intimately connected.

Since Primer, its clear Caruth has grown a lot as a filmmaker. The cinematography has much more polish and the production values are generally higher. This isn’t just the result of a higher budget either. The shot selection in general is much more interesting this time around. The movie also does some interesting things with sound and Caruth’s score is quite good too. The film also has a really cool, detached tone that I liked a lot. In short, the film is very solid on a technical level.

In addition to directing, producing, writing, composing, editing, and shooting the film, Caruth also plays a lead role. He does a pretty good job throughout. The film is so detached from its characters that you never really learn that much about them, but Caruth is convincing in his role. However he is upstaged by his female co-star Amy Seimetz. Seimetz is very effective and delivers an interesting and emotional performance. Her character is a tad inconsistent, but that seems by design given the bizarre narrative.

So with Upstream Color, we have a film that’s very well made and has two strong performances. And yet, I don’t actually like this movie. I don’t hate it, but I can’t embrace it either. Why? Well, it comes down to the narrative. The story in Upstream Color makes no sense almost from the get go and even when things start to make sense the film goes completely off the rails. Many will argue that’s because the story isn’t really what is important, it’s the ideas behind it. That’s fine theoretically, but the ideas seemed pretty vague as well. It also hurts that I never felt too much investment to “figure out” the film. I wasn’t interested in the story and while I did like the performances, I didn’t actually care for the characters. The main problem is that while Upstream Color is a confounding puzzle, it ultimately leaves me cold.

You might be reading this thinking, “Well, I lived the confusing nature to Primer’s story so I’m sure I’ll love this.” Well, you might, but then again you might not. The fact is this is a very different animal than Primer. Primer is confusing, but everything feels logical even if you don’t necessarily understand why it’s happening. Upstream Color on the other hand follows no logic beyond the ideas Caruth is trying to portray. A lot of people will love that and a lot already do. I can’t go there, however the film is too well-made and acted for me to dismiss.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. This one struck way more of a chord with me, than Primer did and for many reasons. The main which being that this felt like it was more than just a puzzle, and instead, actually had some substance and emotion to go along with the twisty and turny proceedings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s