Netflix UK / VOD film review: Upstream Colour
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Ivan Radford | On 21, Dec 2013Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Shane Carruth
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth
Watch Upstream Color online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Curzon Home Cinema
Shane Carruth blew brains when he popped up out of nowhere with time travel flick Primer in 2004. Now, he’s looking to do the same with Upstream Colour, a tender, low-fi sci-fi that squirms with ideas before exploding into full-on Tree of Life rhapsody. Is that the sign of a masterpiece? Or just an unnecessary third act that’s complex for complexity’s sake?
Things start off in a gripping haze of maggots and mind control as a shady guy sticks bugs inside pills before flogging them in pubs – only for them to wriggle their way through their hosts, taking over their body and making them supplicant to his will. It’s a nasty concept told in beautiful images splattered with unflinching gore; a soft-focus horror that tears through your gut.
Months after her maggoty assault, Kris (a hypnotic Amy Seimetz) finds herself drawn to another man (played by Shane Carruth himself). Has he been through the same thing? And what is that mysterious noise coming from underneath the house?
Carruth builds up layers with an impressive confidence – he composed the score and edited the film too, crafting a sound-driven feast for the eyes that dazzles as much as it defies explanation. It develops wonderfully into an engaging romance, undercut with raw dread, that asks lots of big questions. Mostly in a hushed whisper. Why do we fall in love? What connects us together? How many rocks can you find at the bottom of your local swimming pool? Have you ever read any books by Walden?
With its lyrical cinematography, you feel the influence of Terrence Malick, but this enigmatic mosaic is at its most interesting when being David Cronenberg. Many will gasp as they try to untangle the illogical web of loose ends, but things risks becoming troublesome rather than transcendent.
Thinking on a big scale is one thing, but to be successful a film has to communicate that scope to its audience. Scenes where people are seen cuddling pigs border on being unintentionally funny, a sign that communications may have broken down. Whether you think Carruth is being complex for complexity’s sake or not, Upstream Colour seems to work better in its initial segments; a short, dark sci-fi that leaves you scratching your head and clutching your belly – before it stretches out to be something grander. While Primer was a tightly-woven thriller with no holes in its weave, you can’t shake the gut feeling that Upstream Colour is full of them. One thing is certain, though: this divisive brain-addler is one to see, if only to have an opinion.
Upstream Colour is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy or rent Upstream Colour online in the UK?
Never seen Shane Carruth’s debut, Primer? Here’s what happened when we watched it on Netflix.