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Upstream Color - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Upstream Color
Directing: C
Acting: B+
Writing: C-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: C+

I tried, I really did. I paid close attention. I zeroed in on the details. In spite of all that, you could freeze-frame any part of Upstream Color, and I can tell you what was going through my head at that moment: I have no idea what the hell is going on right now.

The first act is a bit of horror-lite. There are moments that, to me, are outright horror. Caterpillar-like creatures crawling just beneath the skin? Yuck. A woman stabbing herself with a steak knife trying to get it out? Cue my hands to cover my eyes.

I couldn't offer a spoiler to this movie if I wanted to. What the hell was up with those caterpillar-like creatures? You got me. All I know is that this woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is drugged with a concoction somehow derived from these creatures by a thief (Thiago Martins) who then uses the drug's manipulative powers to get Kris to turn over all her money to him. It's reminiscent of a date rape drug, and there are long stretches of time where I wondered if things were going to go in that direction, but this guy is just an outright thief. Why he goes to such bizarre lengths just to get money will remain a mystery.

I usually like it when movies are not predictable. But for that to work for me, I have to be able to make sense of the unexpected turns the movie makes. Sure, there's some very nice cinematography. Some are calling this movie "hypnotic," which is not very far off the mark -- especially with the sound editing being such an integral part of, well, whatever this is.

Once the thief is out of the picture, Upstream Color shifts gears, and you're left to wonder if all that weird stuff the thief made Kris do actually happened or if she just imagined it. It seems as though we're meant to think she' not sure it actually happened; and at one point she reveals to a tentative suitor, named Jeff (Shane Carruth), that she's on medication.

Oh, did I mention the pig farmer? I have no smooth way to insert this guy into the picture -- and neither does Shane Carruth, who happens to be both the writer and the director. Is the pig farmer a real guy? Sometimes it seems like yes, sometimes no. His interactions with his pigs are intercut with the exploits (such as they are) of Kris and Jeff as their relationship develops. I got a very strong sense that the pig farmer, or the pigs, or something, were supposed to be a clear metaphor for something specific. I never figured out what it was.

Perhaps other people will. This is the kind of movie that intellectuals, and independent cinema snobs, will watch and think it's absolutely clear what it's about, while people like me watch the entire film fly right over their heads and feel like idiots for not understanding.

I kept hoping that something would occur at the end that ties everything together, somehow making it all make sense. That does happen, sort of. Things come full circle, in a way, and it has to do with that fucking pig farmer. The movie pretty much lost me way before this point. It's like Carruth offers the final puzzle piece, but when I step back to take a look at the finished big picture, it's still the cinematic equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting. I won't deny that it's art -- but I still couldn't tell you what the fuck it means.

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz are ready for . . . whatever . . . in UPSTREAM COLOR.

Overall: C
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