Movie Review: 'Upstream Color' -- 2.5 stars
Directed by Shane Carruth
Starring Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth
Playing at IFC Center
There's a language of cinema that we've grown accustomed to over the years, in which certain rules are followed: Shots are sequenced in a digestible way, narratives develop over the course of three concise acts and filmmakers provide a combination of dialogue and imagery that produces an easily comprehendible plot.
"Upstream Color" isn't the first movie to throw all those conventions away, and really one shouldn't expect anything less from the sophomore effort of Shane Carruth, whose 2004 flick "Primer" has become a cult hit, thanks to its tech-heavy dialogue and labyrinthine time-travel story.
But outside the realm of pure avant-garde experimental film, Carruth's follow-up is about the most overt challenge to filmmaking norms that you'll ever find, an ode to nature's mysteries rendered in elliptical scenes, dreamlike images suffused with cloudy grey light and close-ups that convey an intensity of feeling beyond words.
The story involves a parasite that links Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth). It includes a brutal kidnapping ordeal, a pig farmer known as The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) and moments of rebirth and regeneration.
The film evokes the hazy, disorienting sensation of opening your eyes for the first time after a good night's sleep, that harsh moment when the dream world bleeds into reality. Carruth's refusal to spell things out can be frustrating; the movie's deep emotional underpinnings are compromised by too many images that skew toward a dense, abstract sensibility.
Unlike, say, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," Carruth offers a prettified rendition of a particular state of mind, rather than a unique spin on a universal experience. The characters don't seem like independent humans; they're prisoners, tools to be manipulated and shaped by Carruth's specific vision. And maybe that's the point.