Upstream Color is my new obsession and I don't want to tell you anything about it. I want you to go in as cold as I did; I want you to be as hypnotized as I was by its dreamlike story of kidnapping, mind control, love, memory and parasitic worms. It is here to freak you out and that's as noble a goal as a movie can have.
A woman (Amy Seimetz) is kidnapped and implanted with little round nematodes. During this time her free will is erased in the service of crime. Afterward, the worms are removed. Later, she becomes involved with a man (director Shane Carruth, who also wrote, produced, shot, edited and scored the film) and together they engage in what can only be described as a deadpan romance with some built in problems. Their memories of their own lives become a source of conflict. A pig farm is involved.
I'm not trying to be confusing here. Because this is not a confusing film. But it is strange and full of unexplained detail, trusting you to be compelled to piece it together and wonder what, exactly, is going on and why. To compare it to other movies in current release -- the ones that do nothing but dull your senses and, in the long run, make audiences incapable of dealing with anything but extremely obvious story-feeding -- is impossible. It's science fiction and romance and comedy and the slowest burn sort of thriller, one where the momentum is based on a simmering unease and a slow unfolding. Long stretches are dialogue-free but it's a noisy sort of quiet, with impeccable sound design that carries just as much weight as spoken words. There will be moments while watching it where you won't trust your own perception, where you'll want to shout at the screen because you're wondering where the worms went, if they ate the woman's identity or if all her memories now live inside a pig. And that's fine. Anxiety is part of the trip.
But in the course of its almost 90 mysterious minutes you'll be rewarded with a vital cinematic experience, an outward push of visual and sonic information, meticulous detail and highly sophisticated storytelling that doesn't necessarily correspond to a literary model. It's not designed to stump or baffle but to beckon you into its wondrously chilly gray world. If it takes a few viewings to unlock (most of) its secrets then lucky you; you spent high-quality time you might have wasted on Pain & Gain.