Filmmaker Shane Carruth made his debut in 2004 with Primer, which is a sci-fi thriller that he directed, wrote, produced, edited, scored and starred in for a budget of $7,000. Critics praised the movie but not a lot of people have seen it.
Primer is applauded for its precision and vision. It won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This is impressive because Carruth is a self-taught filmmaker who used to be an engineer.
Nine years after, Carruth is back with his follow-up movie, Upstream Color. It is a daring suspense that is at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum. Primer is a cerebral movie while Upstream Color gives viewers a hypnotic sensory experience.
Upstream Color is an art house film that is not for everyone. It places the audience in the deep end right from the start and keeps on it until the end. The filmmaker utilizes imagery with haunting quality that is reminiscent of Terrence Malick. The movie also has moments that can make viewers squirm.
Upstream Color steers clear of linear narrative format. It moves in an elliptical, hypnotic method. Carruth has a rhythmic editing style that keeps viewers hooked even though they don’t know what they are watching. It gives the movie a dreamlike feel.
It is hard to understand what Upstream Color is about. One thing that is sure is its obscurity is intentional. It is described as a man and woman who are drawn together into a life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity is an illusion as they find it hard to piece things together.
Carruth plays Jeff. With Kris (Amy Seimetz), they find themselves intrigued by each other as they ride on the same commuter train every morning. They haven’t realized it yet but they have been part of a scientific experiment that has damaged their lives, careers, and finances.
Upstream Color ends on a surprisingly optimistic note. It is open for interpretation. It is thrilling and certain. It features bloody and disturbing images in its runtime of 96 minutes.