UPSTREAM COLOUR is the most strikingly original film you’re likely to see at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
This is the second feature from Shane Carruth, the multitasking American filmmaker who caused a stir on the indie scene nine years ago with his time travel-themed head-scratcher Primer.
It’s a similarly confounding work of barmy brilliance that uses obfuscation as its main narrative strategy to hide a sensuous, delicately constructed tale of robbery and revenge, one incorporating hypnotic drugs, parasitic worms, strange sound-scapes, Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist classic Walden, and a farm full of sentient pigs.
Carruth – who wrote, directed, shot, edited, produced and scored the film (and also takes one of the lead roles) – creates an elliptical mood from the off with a series of fluidly edited scenes that establish the existence of an organic larval narcotic that hijacks the cells of its users and appears to confer upon them strange consciousness-sharing powers.
The drug is harnessed by a sinister man known only as The Thief, who uses it to coax financial information from potential marks before robbing them blind and leaving them with no sense of what has happened.
Carruth and Amy Seimetz play two such memory- ravaged victims, shells of their former selves inexplicably drawn to one another as they try to pick up the shattered pieces of their now destitute lives.
This is the point at which Upstream Colour gets really strange. As Carruth introduces another sinister figure known as The Sampler, a truly bizarre sequence of events follows in which pigs and humans become inextricably linked.
With no clarifying exposition, Carruth has the confidence to let the film’s haunting imagery draw in the curious; their reward is a lush, deeply felt, very modern exploration of the need to find genuine connections in a cruel and (very) unusual world.