Carruth’s ‘Upstream Color’ is flawed, but beautiful


Evan Minniti staff writer
There are a lot of cute piggies, scary parasites and raw emotions in “Upstream Color”, a science-fiction romantic epic, and the second feature film for writer-director-actor-composer Shane Carruth. In an era when so many mainstream movies with budgets in the tens of millions can look so visually flat and uninteresting, “Upstream Color”, with its $50,000 budget, is a testament to independent filmmaking.
“Upstream Color”, despite taking place almost entirely in suburbs and pig farms, is a tale of malicious parasites and telepathy. Kris and Jeff, two strangers that meet through seemingly random circumstances, try to piece together their lives and memories after being forced to ingest a mysterious parasite by a man known only as “The Thief”. While going on their journey, they become increasingly telepathically entangled in the lives of pigs being raised by another mysterious man, “The Sampler”, that have also been infected with parasites. What follows is a sometimes disturbing, but undeniably beautiful trek to discover the truth of what happened to them.
The performances from Amy Seimetz and Carruth, who play Kris and Jeff respectively, are quite believable. They genuinely seem like two broken people who can’t help but identify with and love each other, despite figuring out that a lot of that attraction comes from really terrifying repressed memories and a telepathic connection with pigs.
It must be said that “Upstream Color” can be hard to follow and definitely requires multiple viewings. It is often a frustrating movie. The exact relationship between the two antagonists is never clarified, perhaps deliberately, however there seems to be one. There is a sort of coldness to the film because the parasite isn’t really a malicious one. It has clearly harmful side effects that almost kill the main characters, but it isn’t evil. The parasite isn’t like the Xenomorphs from “Alien”, it is just an organism trying to survive.
Carruth composed the music to “Upstream Color”. The soundtrack is frankly beautiful; a haunting electronic heavy ambience that permeates throughout the film. Interestingly enough, the music is more reminiscent of early M83 shoegazing than it is of a traditional musical score.
Despite some confusing moments and slow pacing, “Upstream Color” is a powerful and beautiful film, filled with grade-A cinematography, a haunting score and believable performances.