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rochefort [Celluloid 03.19.13] scifi thriller drama experimental arthouse avant-garde

We simply don't get enough films that require us to pay really close attention to every scene else we end up completely lost. Primer, director Shane Carruth's labyrinthine debut film about time-travel, was unapologetically dense and occasionally obtuse, and won him as many converts for its stark style and heady dialogue as it alienated pretty much everybody who lacked the patience to muscle through its many intellectual exercises. His second feature is one of the best follow-up's I think I've ever seen from a modern auteur; Upstream Color retains the smarts of its predecessor, but has a somewhat grander goal in mind and is equal parts disturbing and poetic. It still requires you to be alert and awake, but man oh man does it reward you for it.


Hapless Kris (Amy Seimetz) falls prey to a thief who harvests a rare maggot that, when mickey'ed into Kris' drink, puts her into a trance state that allows him to take complete control of her life. Hypnotized by the thief, Kris eats ice for dinner, watches paintings as if they were television shows and empties her bank accounts at his behest. He leaves her broke, paranoid and borderline insane, and it's when she's at her lowest that she meets Jeff (Carruth), a twitchy and fairly intense loner who convinces her to give him a chance. Kris and Jeff each harbor many secrets (in many ways he's as fractured and lost as she is) and the myriad of mental issues between them create as much of a bond as they do conflict. And what begins as a Cronenbergian tale of seduction and control morphs into a truly unique redemption story as Jeff sets out to help Kris reclaim her mind.

***End Spoilers***

Full of long, dialogue-free stretches, extremely subtle visual hints, and a great many languidly hypnotic sequences, "Color" makes an excellent case for auteur filmmaking, as it's easy to imagine that we're seeing the story play out from a very personal and incredibly specific perspective.

Having said all that, I didn't find the film impenetrable at all. There's a rich story here that should appeal to anyone who likes their oddball genre movies injected with a healthy dose of the cerebral. The initial sequences are by far the weirdest and border on body horror, and once Kris' and Jeff's love story begins the tone doesn't so much shift as it rather thickens. It's fascinating to see this and "Primer" as the first two glimpses into an off-kilter world of Carruth's making; one where the meditative and character-driven nature of good indie cinema meets bio-horror and fringe science.

But, again, don't watch this without a couple of cups of coffee in you. Carruth's storytelling rhythms can be challenging. And I don't mean it's a slow-moving film: all things considered, it packs quite a lot of story and food for thought into its ninety some-odd minutes. But we're often shown the moments just before or after a lesser filmmaker would have had an info-dump, the script steadfastly refusing the temptation to give us recaps or breakdowns of what we've just seen.

Carruth is clearly taking to heart his responsibility as a craftsman of sight and sound, and I hope he keeps it up. If this truly is the second of many more trips into a universe of his making, I think we've got some great stuff to look forward to, even if we have to wait another nine years for the next one.

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