Film Pulse Score

Release Date:   April 5, 2013
MPAA Rating:   Not Rated
Director:   Shane Carruth

We here at Film Pulse have been discussing Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color for the last several months, basically stating that it would turn out to be one of our favorite films of the year. I made numerous statements and poised questions to myself after watching the first teaser. After revisiting that post I have decided that – Yes, 8 years was definitely worth the wait and I, sort-of, understood the film, but I am still processing what I just saw.

Also, the film never gives a definitive answer to whether or not those are, indeed, starlings.

As stated before, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color is his first film in 8 years since his debut, Primer, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. With Primer, Carruth burst onto the scene and introduced himself as an immensely creative storyteller with a talent for all aspects of film-making; be it through scoring, editing, casting and, even, production design. I, for one, was curious to see what Carruth could do, given more financial backing; coupled with not having the burden of handling the roles of casting director and production design. The verdict: A highly polished film that excels in every aspect. Not only that…a thoroughly engrossing film ripe with mystery and beauty that unfolds, at a perfect pace, like a jigsaw puzzle.

It is difficult to discuss the plot of Upstream Color because doing so, I believe, will take all the enjoyment and intrigue out of the viewing experience, so I will try to keep it brief. The film involves a couple, Jeff (Shane Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz), trying to piece together their lives and the tragic events that wrecked them. Orchids, grubs, pigs and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden are all weaved into the taut storyline, blurring memories, blurring identities and blurring man’s desire to fully connect with the harmony of nature. That, in itself, is probably to much information. The scatter-shot storyline unfolds perfectly with such precision through the work of the film’s editors Carruth (honestly, the man does everything) and David Lowery. I don’t normally discuss film editing or cases of excellence in the field, but Upstream Color‘s narrative desperately hinged on flawless editing and Carruth and Lowery delivered.

The performances are of note as well, one of which being Shane Carruth. Although, his performance was not transcendent, it was definitely a large improvement from his turn in Primer. The other one, the highlight of the film, would be Amy Seimetz as the emotionally and physically damaged Kris, the film’s main character. Kris goes through a range of abuse, both to her body and her psyche, throughout the film’s duration and Seimetz mirrors the range of actions against her with a pitch-perfect range of emotions. Again, the storyline’s emotional impact essentially rests on Seimetz’s performance and she, like Carruth and Lowery with editing, delivered.

All of this, together with the film’s original music, once again, provided by Carruth which is skillfully incorporated into the film by a deft sound department (deserving of the Special Jury Prize for Sound Design at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) makes for a highly inventive and thought-provoking sophomore effort. Shane Carruth has once again proved himself to be not only a highly capable director, but also a skilled actor, writer, musician, editor and cinematographer (which is another area in which Carruth has taken a large step forward). Upstream Color was, without a doubt, worth the 8 year wait time…hopefully, we just don’t have to wait another 8 years.