(directed by Shane Carruth, 2013)
**** (out of 5)
> Holy crap, this is a weird little film! In fact, UPSTREAM COLOR is one of the strangest films I have ever seen- and considering my time as a projectionist in film school, that’s saying a lot! As such, it is certainly not for everybody. In fact, there were many moments I felt it was not for me as I watched this inscrutable riddle slowly unfold like an extended fever dream.
. I’m not sure I could tell you what it was about, without resorting to the synopsis on the box. As near as I can tell: a woman meets a stranger who hypnotizes her, controlling her daily life and manipulating her into draining her life savings and signing them over to him. He has some kind of bizarre medical treatment he subjects her to- something derived from genetically-modified swine, I gather, that causes bugs to grow and thrive inside her body. They can be seen crawling about just under the skin! It’s all unsettlingly creepy, in a twisted David Cronenberg meets David Lynch kind of way. Later, she meets another man and becomes involved with him, only to discover that he too has been subjugated to the same perverse treatments.
. There is not much dialogue, but the mostly electronic soundtrack here is used to extraordinary effect, making otherwise bland moments arc and sputter with the electricity of extreme tension. The pig farmer responsible for this unspeakable travesty, lurks in the background observing. Much of the time he sits and stares at his subjects who seem totally unaware that he is there. (A result of the hypnotism? Never explained.) It comes as a total surprise when in one scene his female victim suddenly seems to notice him there. Why? (Again: not explained. Not much is. It’s all inferred, which can be pretty maddening to an audience weaned on narratives that spell everything out for the viewer.)
. I really did not know what to make of UPSTREAM COLOR while I was watching it. (I could not begin to explain the title, for instance.) But in the hours and days that followed, this strange filmic experience grew and resonated in a surprising way. Yes, it is an experimental film. No, it is not always successful as such. But is it unique, baffling, intriguing and fascinating?
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