There’s probably a subset of Primer fans – maybe a very large subset – that will not be nearly as keen on Shane Carruth’s decade-later follow-up, Upstream Color. The former’s labyrinthine time-travel plotting, explainable perhaps only by complicated diagrams, has made it an irresistible cult item, and its minuscule $7,000 budget doesn’t hurt the mystique. I get the appeal of puzzle-box movies and general mind-fuckery, but Carruth isn’t some micro-budgeted Christopher Nolan; he’s far more interested in mood and emotional resonance. The time-travel stuff in Primer is intriguing in and of itself, but it’s far more interesting as a lens through which to view an increasingly strained friendship and misguided notions of purpose.
Upstream Color feels like both a natural follow-up to and a seismic advance over Primer; Carruth’s associative, intuitively cross-cut imagery has become astonishingly elegant. The title is perfect – watching the film feels like slipping into a current of image and sound, oblique but not incomprehensible. The film is more satisfying emotionally than intellectually, but that’s not a criticism. One can tease out the underlying mythology of Upstream Color, and yes, repeat viewings will certainly help, but such discussions can overshadow the intensely visceral power of a film like this. If one’s goal is simply to “get it” (the “Nolan effect,” often applied to Primer), this is probably going to be a letdown.
The film’s examination of dependent, interwoven relationships and their parasitic qualities is filtered through the budding romance between Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth), a couple bound by mutual pain and an organic, psychic connection that’s both comforting and unsettling. The film is awash in intriguing science-fiction concepts, including mysterious bonds between plant, animal and human, and several white-knuckle body-horror sequences, but this feels like a love story primarily, albeit one with invasive worms and symbiotic pig relationships.
Upstream Color is sure to be one of my favorite films of the year, and I’m already eager to watch it again – not to work out the narrative, but simply to revel in Carruth’s precisely delivered, thrillingly free-form imagery.
The Blu-ray Disc
Upstream Color is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is an exacting transfer, beautifully replicating the shallow-focus beauty of the digitally shot film. Colors are bright and clean, the image is reasonably sharp and damage is nonexistent. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is even stronger, offering the film’s innovative sound design and score (also by Carruth) in a nicely immersive mix.
Sorry, there’s no commentary track to explicate the film’s many mysteries. All you get are a couple of trailers. The combo pack set also includes a DVD disc.
The Bottom Line
A monumental work. It was definitely worth the wait for another Shane Carruth feature.