Upstream Color REVIEW


Written by Guillermo Troncoso.


Upstream Color is the brain-child of Shane Carruth, a former software engineer that made a noticeable splash in 2004 with Primer. Primer was a unique, albeit challenging, collision of ideas and sci-fi influences. Carruth’s $7000 indie film brought comparisons to some of the greatest self-funded pictures, especially Aronofsky’s Pi. Fans of Primer will be eager to see Carruth’s latest creation, others will at least be curious. Either way, prepare for a film that proudly stands apart from the norm.

Amy Seimetz stars as Kris, a graphics production designer who is drugged by a mysterious man. She is left susceptible to mind-control and is made to sign over her home equity. One day, Kris awakens in a car on the side of a freeway, without any memory of where she has been for the last few days. As Kris attempts to rebuild her life, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth). Both these people find themselves mysteriously drawn to one another. Could her kidnapping have something to do with this man? Are they both more connected than they realise? And who exactly is The Sampler?

Don’t watch Upstream Color expecting anything resembling an easy narrative. The aforementioned synopsis is but a section of this original, frustrating and interesting film. As the lives of these two characters begin to intertwine, things begin to get very strange indeed. Just when you think you’ve got a grasp of what the film wants to say, a seemingly abstract sequence unfolds that pushes you back to the drawing board.

Much of the film unfolds without much dialogue. Shane Carruth also created the film’s excellent score, which plays a big role in creating the dream-like feelings emitted from the film. Upstream Color is both beautiful and strangely uncomfortable. Long scenes are played out without any explanation or attempt at exposition. This will either infuriate viewers or draw them in. Your response will depend on your willingness to interpret Carruth’s ideas and metaphors.

Unfortunately, the film’s artistic drive gets quite tiresome as the film progresses. In trying to interpret (or accept) Carruth’s vision, the film loses the dramatic drive that urges you to commit to a filmmaker’s work. Strange transitions, confounding sequences and abstract ideologies make for a film that many may consider pretentious.

Upstream Color is definitely artistic and borderline fascinating, but it doesn’t quite work as a film-going experience. That being said, the film is definitely what you would call a work of art. Art, by its definition, is the work of the human imagination; and that is always open to individual interpretation.


– G.T.