Upstream Color Review

Another textbook example of how an Indie film can alienate general audiences. If you’re into anything strange, disorienting and a bit pretentious, touch this rainbow. But to anyone who just wants to enjoy a movie, steer clear of this skittles ad.

Upstream Color is written and directed by Shane Carruth, and stars Amy Seimetz as Kris, a woman abducted and intrinsically tied to the life cycle of a mysterious organism. She then meets an almost literal soul-mate in Jeff (Shane Carruth again) who helps her unravel the mysteries of Kris’ past experience. Sort of.

If you haven’t guessed from my opening line, or the synopsis, this is a strange offbeat experience rather than an enjoyable film. Its disorienting, isn’t interested in telling a clear and traditional story, and constantly falls back on colourful (GET IT?!) imagery and a melancholy symphonic score. If you love anything that feels distinct, unique or challenging Upstream Color is the perfect experience for you. But for everyone else… Know what you’re getting into. I personally fall in the middle – I love a film that has multiple levels of meaning and ambiguity, but it has to be anchored in a story. Something for all audiences to initially latch onto in order to drag them into a deep web of metaphor and imagery. So while I can appreciate Upstream Color for what its attempting, I have to still fault it on its constant obsession with disorienting the audience. Sure it may add to the meaning of the film, but when it comes at the deficit of the audience its unnecessary.

That being said, if you are the kind of person who is drawn to puzzle films like an internet troll to controversy, Upstream Color has plenty to unpack. Like some of my other favourite films like Memento and Enemy, Color slowly becomes more intriguing the more you try to unwind its tangled threads. While the final jigsaw image created isn’t the masterpiece that is Memento, its still well-worth delving into if you think movie watching should be dissected like a murder case instead of, you know, actually being enjoyed.

Now that my puzzle/indie films dissection is out of the way, lets focus on the construction of the film itself. Carruth is clearly a fan of a select few cinematic techniques, such as the close-up, quick editing and cross-cutting and the film does clearly showcase his capable grasp on film-making itself. That being said, considering how constant and distracting many of his techniques are it isn’t long until his direction grows stale. By the half-way mark its genuinely tiresome.

The same goes for the music. While rarely a sticking point for me personally, the soundtrack in this is so repetitive and dull that it began to evoke legitimate frustration every time it swell during an ‘inspiring’ sequence. By the end I was perfectly happy to just watch the film muted it was so frustrating.

And watching it mute would barely be a detraction considering how gorgeous and interesting Color can look. While the quick camera movements and editing can detract from some scenes, when the camera stays still the cinematography and framing is a sight to behold. Some genuinely inspired images and uses of colour (unsurprising I guess) give Color a beautiful spark of intrigue even when the lack of a focused story may be distancing normal audiences. Some images would not look out of place in a photography or art gallery.

So now the verdict. Upstream Color is a polarizing one thanks to its very nature – most will despise it, but a select few will be inspired by it. If you’re in the latter, power to you. But for the rest of us, you don’t need to travel Upstream anytime soon.

General Audiences: Not Recommended

Film Buffs: Recommended

Art-Housers: Highly Recommended


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