Upstream Color Sundance 2013 Review
Director/writer: Shane Carruth
Stars: Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Amy Seimetz
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color builds a stunning mosaic of lives overwhelmed by decisions outside their control, of people who don’t understand the impulses that rule their lives. Told with stylistic bravado and minimal dialogue (none in the last 30 minutes), the film continually finds new ways to evoke unexpected feelings.
This is Carruth’s first film since 2004’s Primer, the time-travel mind-bender that surprised Sundance audiences by doing so much with a non-existent budget. The writer/director/composer had more resources this time around, and you can see it in each frame of the film, from underwater schist to microscopic photography. The visuals combine with extraordinary sound design and rhythmic cross-cutting to create a hypnotic portrait of the story’s intertwined lives.
The means to the interconnectivity is a small worm whose parasitic endeavors link lives together. But Carruth doesn’t bother with expository sci-fi gibberish. The organism does what it does, and that’s all we need to know. This allows more time to explore the emotional impact the organism has on the characters. Ultimately, that’s where Upstream Color succeeds. An elaborate intellectual concept fuels the film, but a rich sense of humanity gives it power.