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7/10
True Identity Theft
ferguson-619 April 2013
Greetings again from the darkness. This is no typical movie, so these will not be typical comments. In 2004, Shane Carruth became something of a cult hero with the Sundance Festival crowd when his debut film PRIMER won a Grand Jury Award. Nine years later, we get his follow-up ... the ultimate artsy, indie film for those who thrive on analysis and prefer to avoid a story ending wrapped up with a neat bow.

These comments will not give you much, but I can tell you the screening had many viewers who left frustrated and confused. The fragmented narrative can be a bit disorienting and it avoids the usual staple of a resolution at the end. The audience knows more than the characters, yet the audience is baffled while the characters just continue on.

The first segment of the film is when it's at its most traditional. We see Thief (Thiago Martins) perform some type of worm/parasite procedure that slowly brainwashes Kris (Amy Seimetz) or leads to mind control or loss of personality ... just depends how you prefer to describe it. We then see The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) help her overcome thanks to a blood transfusion on his pig farm. Yes, really. Finally, Kris bonds with Jeff (Shane Carruth) as they seek to reassemble their lives and re-discover themselves. Watching them bicker over who belongs to what memory is frightening and fascinating. It makes you question the definition of personal identity, and what if we lost that (or it was stolen).

Nature plays a huge role here, along with the connection to Thoreau's Walden. Many will use the term pretentious. Some will call it boring. Still others will be drawn in by the imagery and sound (or sometimes lack thereof). Shane Carruth does not fit Hollywood and neither do his films. He is a writer, producer, director, co-editor, cinematographer, and actor. He clearly has a love of the material and his choice of Amy Seimetz really makes the film work. She is outstanding (and also a filmmaker). The tired phrase "it's not for everyone" certainly applies here, but if you are a Terrence Malick fan or just enjoy being challenged by somewhat abstract themes, this one is worth a look.
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10/10
"Each drink is better than the last, leaving you with the desire to have one more. Take a drink now."
Al_The_Strange25 May 2013
I knew this film was going to be weird. Shane Carruth's debut film - Primer - was an oddity as it was, lacking in straightforward answers or explanations, but presenting a very intriguing and sturdy piece of hard science fiction. Be warned that Upstream Color is also something that lacks a straightforward explanation. In fact, Primer was something rather cold, with its strong basis in the scientific method; UC is far warmer and artistic, but is also more abstract.

The film may come off as slow and dull to certain viewers, especially if you're expecting a strong narrative structure or plot. I'm usually adverse to movies that have no real plot or conflict, but with this film, it's the experience that matters. Watching this film is a strangely mesmerizing, lucid, and smooth experience, given the exquisite imagery, nuanced performances, and quality music score. The film's first fifteen minutes are probably the most straightforward, most interesting, and most disturbing aspect of the whole thing, and it serves as an important fulcrum point. This much I understand: the film starts off with the freaky notion that there's a man injecting grubs into people, which makes them susceptible to mind control. From then on, the film tracks two such victims who inevitably come together and discover the secrets of their latent trauma.

What makes the film so weird, so cerebral, and potentially frustrating, is that things happen, and characters will say things that won't make total sense. And most scenes are intercut with such footage as a farmer tending to pigs, and flowers growing in the wilderness. The movie draws stark parallels between such images, to unearth some rich thematic territory. Could such scenes reflect on life and death? Is it all about nature? Is it about love? Is it the human condition overall? The film never really tell you outright, and it gets very surreal when scenes overlap. If you struggle to find logic behind this story, you might write it off as messy. If you take in the experience and open your mind to interpreting the film, it'll keep your brain going and haunt you indefinitely. It's an experience comparable to such films as Mulholland Drive.

This film is very stylish, with some beautiful photography and ingenious editing. All actors put on decent performances, and they show a good blend of nuance and emotion. Writing is pretty weird, given the amount of strange and unusual dialogue. This production uses excellent sets, props, and costumes. The music score is very exquisite.

While Primer was a film that appeals on an intellectual level, Upstream Color appeals best to the artistic side of the brain. If you're susceptible to strange, abstract films that require lots of brainpower to interpret and understand, then this one is a perfect puzzlebox for you. Casual audiences might want to approach this with caution.

5/5 (Experience: Very Good | Content: Very Good | Film: Perfect)
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8/10
An exercise in thematic appreciation
hellsfoxes1 March 2013
UPSTREAM COLOR is already baffling the hell out of the world and will especially draw disapproval on IMDb.

The plot is not delivered in a way that is traditionally comprehensible, only to those paying close attention to the themes that unite it all. If you're already rolling your eyes THIS MOVIE IS NOT FOR YOU.

If however you have experienced or would like to experience films where you have to dedicate your ability to assess and determine the underlying idea that is linking a series of enigmatic actions and subtle scenes, UPSTREAM COLOR will intrigue and probably charm you. It very much plays to the TREE OF LIFE crowd.

For me, it's undoubtedly a massive artistic accomplishment. Hugely evocative and if you unearth those ideas, the ability to have human connection, abuse, hope and language among them, you'll have no problem following along and the ending will be very satisfying.

If you want to say "you're not supposed to understand it, just feel it" that's fine. I think that if you stop and ask yourself what idea is driving moments, you can follow along just fine. The story is in the themes. Details are abstract to drive home this point.

I took off two stars because I found the serious tone and sombre score to be so focused and constant, the atmospherics became a little more monotonous than I think was intended. The briefest of levity here and there might have offset the heaviness.

If you're still reading, check it out.
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7/10
World Premiere (mild spoilers)
Trentflix22 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The last paragraph will contain mild spoilers; this is a film you don't want to know anything about before going in so I still recommend skipping it. But I offer it as a jumping point into understanding this film, as I'm sure many will be upset and wonder about that.

I attended the world premiere of Upstream Color at Sundance 2013 along with a Q&A from writer, director, actor etc. Shane Currath. I am a big fan of Primer and I also appreciate esoteric/enigmatic and visual works. Upstream Color definitely can be described with those words. I think Primer is complex and intelligent/intellectual yet can be enjoyed by a broad audience. Upstream Color is easy to understand on a literal, plot level but the themes and allegory are a little harder to understand (I don't claim to fully understand it yet). Needless to say, it's not one that the majority of movie-goers will appreciate.

Aesthetically, it is a beautiful film full of poetic-imagery. It is very visual not unlike the work of Terrence Malick. Our protagonists are exceptionally acted, especially Amy Seimetz as Kris, she is captivating as is the film itself. I'm not going to talk about the plot but keep in mind that it is an allegory. I can't say whether or not I 'enjoyed' this film, but while watching it, it had my fullest attention and it has consumed my thoughts since trying to make sense of it. I wonder if it could have been more effective if it had been clearer. To the movies credit, the last third has no dialogue but none is needed, the film has established an emotional and visual language that the audience fully understands and embraces. This film could be genius; it could just be a lot of pomp with a compelling façade. The film had some real moments of emotional resonance yet at the end I felt hollow and unsatisfied. I probably will revisit this film to understand it and my response better.

The Q&A was interesting, Shane Currath didn't inspire confidence that he had a singular vision and intent for this film (from his answers it sounded like he had some loose ideas and put it on screen). The film prominently features Walden, I thought it may tie in thematically but he stated that when he read Walden it seemed like something you would make someone read as torture – and in the film, it is used loosely as such. It may be ironic or purposeful that this film may be a Walden-esque torture as well for some in its transcendental/opaque nature. He also stated that this movie is about tearing people down and their having to build their own narratives. They also may not understand that there are outside forces affecting them, yet they can feel it on some level. That's probably the most-helpful advice in understanding the film.

(mild thematic and plot detail spoilers follow): Keeping those last two statements in mind, at one point 'The Thief' tries to sell drugs to individuals with a worm inside of it that hypnotizes them, let's take that both literally and figuratively as in he is a drug dealer who is trying to get people addicted to drugs which control them and make them do mindless things whilst high and financially bankrupt them. The worm can be viewed as the addiction itself. These people then hit rock-bottom and once they recover they aren't the same people anymore. There were external forces working on them that they weren't/aren't aware of but now they have to build a personal narrative of how to deal with the consequences of their addiction. The part I haven't figured out yet is The Sampler and the pigs but I'm sure the answer is there somewhere, hopefully the previous interpretation I gave is somewhat accurate and helpful.
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9/10
Refreshing, clever and probably bound to be bitterly divisive
thraengorn16 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A question that is likely to plague many that have the pleasure of viewing Upstream Color is regarding what defines "a film," or, more specifically, a worthwhile film. In my view (and many will and are free to disagree), one of the most exciting and interesting characteristics of film is the ability to take an abstract concept or complex social force we all encounter and manifest it into a narrative via a character or concrete mechanism for the protagonist to interact with or confront. Furthermore, film, as an audiovisual medium, can be best used to express ideas or develops through carefully considered combinations of images and sounds. Expositional dialogue is present in so many movies that it is refreshing to come across that rare filmmaker who dares to take a more symbolic or lyrical approach. Should aforementioned images and sounds be beautifully captured, as they are here, all for the better.

I actually view Upstream Color to be both substantially superior to and less confusing than Primer, his debut. So what is Shane Carruth going on about? Primarily, our conception of identity and forces that perhaps we are unable to perceive - much less understand - that mold this identity. It is obvious to even the most casual observer that our lives are overwhelmingly influenced things outside of our control. The plot we see, then, might be viewed as simply an innovative way to introduce these ideas into a film. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is accosted by a man who forces her to ingest a parasitic maggot that allows him to easily hypnotize and control her, with the ultimate goal being to steal everything she has. Once he's achieved this goal, he exits abruptly, leaving behind a ruined life. At this point, a mysterious figure surgically transfers the parasites from Kris to a pig, for motives more complex. No longer physically infected but still influenced by forces she doesn't understand, Kris encounters Jeff, a man similarly broken, and together they struggle to reassemble their lives and make some sense of what has happened to them.

In many ways, Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" may be the key. First, the Thief has Kris copy Thoreau's work as he prepares to wrench away all her material possession, an act which, despite its obvious malevolence, allows Kris to have a spiritual journey of sorts, to build her life up from the ground floor and truly seize life, as Thoreau sought to do in "Walden". As we see Kris reciting lines from "Walden" while retrieving stones from the bottom of a pool, she is expressing not only that she is beginning to remember some of what happened to her, but also that she is becoming aware that her life is not her own and that she must take action to secure her agency, which one could argue is the core thesis of Thoreau's novel. Finally, referencing "Walden" as an analogous narrative demonstrates that the Thief, Sampler and Orchid gatherers as a cycle represent Carruth taking advantage of that most elegant possibility offered by film to heighten and personify all of the inexplicable things that shape our lives. To make any of these figures entirely comprehensible (i.e. scientifically) would defeat the point, and ultimately make for a less intriguing narrative.

The title, then, is quite fitting. Most structurally, it refers to the blue chemical that flows downstream to affect the development of the orchids. Yet, in a metaphysical sense, it refers to the indistinguishable waves vastly divergent from actions taken far outside our perception, their ripples influencing the trajectory of our lives. As suggested by the trailer of the film, we may be able to force the shape of our story, but the color, the details that may define its richness are decided long before we have any say. Likewise, the oblivious and likely mostly benevolent florists, the morally grey or sometimes compromised Sampler and the explicitly exploitative and unethical Thief exist in a cycle, entirely dependent on each other with varying degrees of awareness, true of the power structures that we interact with ubiquitously.

Of course, it would be a mistake to trivialize the importance of romance in this film. In fact, much of the romantic development serves for a crucial springboard into the more ontological issues, and vice versa. What Kris gets from her time with Jeff beyond just companionship in an otherwise bleak existence, is some sense of self-worth, some understanding that fractured she may even be able to be loved to an extent previously unknown. Along the way, we see refreshing glimpses of the insecurities and questions of trust associated with opening your life up to another person. Carruth's framework for the issues that plague these characters allow the realization of such tender truths that the endurance of the film in the hearts of the willing viewer is practically ensured.

Despite the centrality of the romance, this is Kris' story and Seimetz's expression of the character's emotional trajectory is riveting. Carruth is great as the essential but reserved supporting character of Jeff, and succeeds in that his presence never detracts from the immersion. In a leading role, blemishes may have appeared, but there are none here. The score, sometimes reminiscent of Cliff Martinez's score for Soderbergh's Solaris, is universally captivating and worth listening to independently. The soundscape and visual cues serve to demonstrate how the characters most directly perceive a world controlled informed by powers they have no way of rationalizing or verbally expressing, and are always hypnotically rendered. The editing (done in collaboration with David Lowery, himself burgeoning with talent) facilitates a powerful emotional relevance and further aids in suggestion of thematic connections.

Destined to be lauded as a masterpiece by some and condemned as pretentious by others, Upstream Color is at the very least an ambitious sophomore effort from writer/ director/ producer/ editor/ actor/ composer/ distributor/ cinematographer Shane Carruth. I hope to unravel more of its carefully constructed mysteries in much-anticipated future viewings.
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9/10
A lovely experience
jtklemway2 June 2013
After this movie ended, I was dumbstruck. I sat looking at the end credits, searching through what I had just watched, remembering the film vividly, and yet having it still be a blur.

Upstream Color is not a literal movie. The plot is never explained directly to the viewer, and the actions taken by the characters are unclear in reason and motivation. The most obvious things I could say about the movie are that it is filmed very well, and it has a nice musical score.

But the movie is not about literal plot. It's not about literal characters. It's about feelings and thoughts. It's a movie about broken people trying to fix themselves. There are things everybody in the movie will understand, and there are things nobody will.

It's a lot like music. When you put on music, you know the mood, and you know the melody, and you know the tempo and the harmony, and it can be a beautiful experience, even though you have no idea what the lyrics mean. And upstream color is a lovely, almost meditative movie about the lives of everyone being interconnected, and about how when people form companionship they start to become one, and yet someone else may say totally opposite things than I'm saying, and they wouldn't be wrong.

It's not a movie for people that think a film must have a literal story. It's not a movie for people who won't watch an hour and a half of meditation. It's not for people who see movies to see stories. And there is no shame in disliking this movie. But if you can appreciate an abstract story and can sit through an hour and a half of meditation, this is the movie for you.

Stanley Kubrick said in his later years: "A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later." If Stanley Kubrick were alive today, I think he would have liked this movie a lot.
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1/10
"Upstream" creates a muddled, imprecise portrait.
dylansgabriel4 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
An important question surrounding "Upstream Color" has become: Should the film be applauded just because Shane Carruth attempted it? Carruth did not only direct, write, and star in the film (his second picture, released a decade after his first), but he is also credited as producer, composer, and editor. Carruth's effort and determination is definitely ambitious. But the film itself is a gimcrack vanity trip.

The main character, Kris, experiences severe trauma, which involves her being kidnapped, drugged (the drug contains some metaphysical worm), and hypnotized. When she comes out of her stupor she is penniless and, unable to explain her absence, loses her job.

A man named The Sampler (a separate person from the kidnapper) lures Kris to his farm by using a low-frequency sound. He removes her worm and places it in a piglet. Kris is released, and later meets Jeff, who has been through a similar frightening ordeal.

The piglet carrying Kris' worm is somehow psychically connected to her. When that pig gives birth, The Sampler puts the piglets in a sack and drowns them. At the same time elsewhere, Kris is suddenly panicked (but doesn't know why) and begins searching frantically. Jeff is equally upset. Very scared, the two lock themselves in a bathroom, hiding in the bathtub with a gun and supplies.

Carruth says he chose not to have a relatable trauma happen to the two protagonists because he was worried that if it was too specific, people would believe the commentary was an indictment of whatever that thing was. For example, if the drug used in "Upstream" was a pharmaceutical drug (as opposed to the worm capsules), it could easily be perceived as a comment on pharmaceuticals. This is wrong.

Look at a film that does use a specific subject to communicate a universal message. "Brokeback Mountain" deals with a taboo relationship between two cowboys. But the film's themes extend beyond homosexuality, as is obvious to anyone who has viewed the film.

By trying to make "Upstream Color" more relatable, Carruth does the opposite, and alienates the viewer. How are real-life trauma survivors, or anyone else, supposed to empathize with the victims of pig mind control? And the dreamlike, abstract quality of the film further distances it from reality.

After thinking about it, the similarities between Kris' in-film trauma, and some victims of real-life trauma, became clearer: financial and personal ruin; being endlessly dazed, and frightened, and hopeless, just a general mess. But even when these connections become clear, they lack impact. By generalizing the trauma the film isolates itself; it would have done better to use one specific, tangible trauma. As it is, "Upstream" creates a muddled, imprecise portrait.

screenplayisles.blogspot
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1/10
Oink oink.
horizon200818 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
It's hilarious reading some of the comments for this movie, people give it ten stars but at the same time (if you read their comments) you can see they haven't got any more of an idea what the film is about than those who said it was rubbish and gave it just two. It seems then that some like to lie their way into making you believe they understood something you didn't. Pretentious? Most definitely.

The film is just a collection of random scenes then. And you will find your brain struggling to find something that connects them all. A few times I thought I might be getting there, but just when you think the door of perception is opening.... Slam, it shuts in your face again.

The film begins with a guy collecting maggots from the base of a plant, and scraping off some blue powder from it's leaves. The collected maggot(s) are then fed to a woman who's left a club and the effect is she's hypnotized into withdrawing sums of money collected from the equity on her house. Once out of her trance she tries to remove her inner maggots (which now seem to have magically changed species into tapeworms) and are seen crawling under her skin. She gets a knife and tries half-heartedly to cut them out to no avail. She then goes to some pig farmer who appears to remove them but afterwards shes not the same person she was before, becoming vacant and kind of disturbed and depressed.

Later on, we see her on a train where she meets some other weird soul and they strike up a relationship. From here it all gets a bit wishy washy with apparently pointless dialogue and no real direct thread of a story. At one point the girl thinks she's pregnant and goes to a hospital where they tell her shes been operated on at some stage, even though she herself disagrees (a reference to the pig farmers removal of her maggot/tapeworms), but then she's told shes had cancer but it's all gone now.

Later there are scenes of some people collecting blue flowers growing near a river where the farmer from earlier had been throwing piglets in a sack to their death. We are shown the dead piglets rotting in the river, and the ooze that comes out seems to rise up through the roots of riverside plants being fed on by maggots. Was this a connection then? Dead pig juice being picked up by maggots in plants which were given to the woman which hypnotized her? Your guess is as good as mine.

Eventually the couple are lead via sounds (the pig farmer liked to record sounds on some equipment he had) to the farmer where the woman shoots him and a bunch of other people turn up (which we are shown on what looks like some medical kind of records) and they take over his farm. There's a cut then to the flower collectors from earlier who can no longer find the blue flowers they wanted (only white) which seemed to indicate that whatever was making these blue flowers is now gone (no more dead pigs in the river maybe?). And that's about it.

Basically, the film is pig swill. It looks great, cinematically, and I think I've probably put up the best explanation yet here of what the film is actually "about" - even though that seems to be nothing at all. I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said something like: An audience not understanding, is an audience not emoting - and that's exactly what happens in this pile of pig poo. My advice then is don't waste your time on it, or if you do, don't pretend you got it. I don't believe you.
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1/10
Pointless
iandaddio30 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
After Primer great things were expected, and perhaps this is the problem. We all have a movie or a book or an album inside us, fermenting over the years whilst we live our lives and decide whether to birth our potential. This is how I see the phenomenon of Primer.

However, this leaves audiences with expectant anticipations for more. Upstream colour is not more, it is less; a lot less in fact. From the quirky quantum but plausible world of Primer, we are thrown in to the psychotic conspiracy theory world of upstream colour.

This is a film that self marginalises by not allowing access by its audience. The cinematography is breath taking and the sound-scape is intriguing, for the first thirty minutes of this film. Then there is the deflated reality that this is perhaps all Shane Carruth had worked out on the napkin in the café he was sitting in at the time of upstream colour's conception.

It is a literally pointless film, the whole story would have fit into those sumptuous first thirty minutes. The dialogue is trite and overly constructed to be strange. The character connections are tenuous at best, and the plot line, when I could decipher it, was well, pointless; a scientist/terrorist who implants maggots into people to steal their money? really? that's it? And this is padded out and convoluted to last 1 hour 36 minutes!

This is one film I will not be climbing into my quantum human photocopying machine to watch again. Sorry Shane; I really enjoyed Primer though.
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1/10
Prententious Pap
larrys323 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
To me this film, written, directed, and starring Shane Corruth, played more like an experimental movie and ended up being a bunch of pretentious pap. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough to get all the symbolism or hidden meanings amid the somber soundtrack, or maybe I'm just not willing to be bored out of my mind with very little clue as to what is happening on the screen.

No thanks. I couldn't wait until it was over, and felt I was "punked" in a way by the filmmaker, ala Terrence Malick's latest movie "To The Wonder".

Maybe they should issue warnings to the film-goer on these type of movies---Danger! Beware!--Incoherent Plot Ahead.
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2/10
Alienating and tedious
Red-Barracuda30 June 2013
Where to begin? Well, it's very possible that Upstream Colour has a very interesting premise. I can't really confirm this though because quite frankly this is one incomprehensible movie. It starts out fairly intriguing to be fair, with a woman abducted by a man who implants a modified maggot into her. This leaves her in some way under his control and he proceeds to get her to give all of her money to him. Another man pitches up and transfers her internal maggot into a pig. It appears that he has a group of pigs that are all connected to different people who have suffered a similar fate. Anyway, the girl has no memory of her ordeal and soon she meets a man who it turns out was also a victim of the same ordeal. It's at this point that the film goes rapidly downhill.

Upstream Colour is one of those movies where things are certainly not spelled out to the audience. This in itself is not a criticism; it's often laudable in actual fact. But equally this in and of itself is does not necessarily mean a film should be praised. This movie lost me mainly because of the alienating presentation, it was impossible to empathise with the characters and the constant ambient soundtrack humming in the background only added to the detachment. The tone of the movie is more or less a flat line – beyond the interesting opening the story hums along in a one pitch manner. The dialogue scenes between the two central protagonists are very unengaging, bordering on tedious. Visually there were things of interest and its ambiguity was compelling to an extent but overall this one left me very cold.
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2/10
Consult Wikipedia to figure out what this banal, convoluted 'potboiler' is all about!
Turfseer11 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
After watching 'Upstream Color', you might imagine that the film's creator, Mr. Shane Carruth, who was responsible for almost every aspect of the film, is a wide-eyed, creepy guy who resembles an unpleasant, demented version of Doc Brown from 'Back to the Future'. Carruth is far from that as you can get. Watching him on Youtube, during his interview by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, he appears more like a low-key, fraternity pledge at a local college. Carruth recognizes that some of us might regard his second bizarre feature, 'Upstream Color', as both banal and pretentious, but he doesn't care. Publicly he takes the stance of 'to each his own', but beneath the surface, I sensed something a tad bit more arrogant: 'hey, you guys don't really get it!' It would have been nice if a one or two brave, hardy souls had decided to call Carruth out and explicitly criticize him for his self-indulgence, but I can assure you, there were none of those courageous individuals on hand, at the staid Lincoln Center theater.

After polling a number of people who were at the viewing I was at, there seemed to be a consensus that most audience members simply did not understand what was going on. I rushed home and thank God that Wikipedia contained a pretty good synopsis of the Upstream Color plot. I also read a few reviews (mostly positive believe it or not) that painted a clearer picture of Carruth's narrative. Perhaps the best explanation of what the film is about is by one Mach Kobayashi, a young man, who has posted a Youtube video entitled "Upstream Color Explained (With Stick Puppets!).

Once one finally ends up having an inkling as to what this film is about, then one doesn't simply have to get upset with Carruth and blurt out an uninformed pejorative comment, such as 'this is garbage'. Rather, one can be slightly more circumspect, and point to the overall ludicrousness of Carruth's 'vision' (am I allowed to use such a word in describing Carruth's project here?—I think not!).

Carruth's protagonist is Kris, who falls victim to a narcotics producer (referred to in the credits as 'The Thief). We never see this shady character but do see him preparing a blue liquid, which contains a worm from the larvae found inside the leaves of blue orchid flowers he's been cultivating. He administers this concoction to Kris, who falls into this drug-induced stupor. The Thief distracts Kris by having her transcribe a copy of Thoreau's 'On Walden Pond"; while that's going on, The Thief cleans out her home equity account as well as a rare coin collection. When Kris finally wakes up, she can see a worm crawling inside her stomach and tries to remove it by cutting herself with a knife.

The Thief appears to be working for his boss, 'The Sampler', who, according to Wikipedia, uses low intensity sound (Ifrasonics), to lure Kris and the worm (which is drawn to the sound), to him. According to the erudite Mr. Kobayashi, Kris is 'psychically linked' to 'The Sampler' through her connection to the worm. And after The Sampler removes the worm from Kris, he places the worm inside a pig and all those pigs are psychically linked to the humans, who had the same worm in them, from before.

Jeff, a former stockbroker who was a victim of 'The Sampler' (and spent time in jail for embezzlement through no fault of his own), finds Kris and they immediately bond. Kris and Jeff fall in love but are both troubled by memories of their childhood, undoubtedly connected to their bad experiences, while in the drug-induced stupor as a result of their encounter with the 'The Sampler'.

Carruth's villain appears to have the ability to discern what humans are doing through observing his pigs and when he sees that one of the pigs has given birth, he concludes that Kris will too. So that's why he kills the pig by placing it in a burlap bag and throws it in the river. The trauma to the pig somehow affects Kris as well; a checkup at the hospital reveals she wasn't pregnant, but did have Endometrial cancer, which will probably prevent her from giving birth in the future.

Eventually more bad memories creep into Kris' consciousness (she's extremely disturbed, picking up rocks from the bottom of a pool and reciting lines from Thoreau). But fortunately Kris's references to Thoreau leads Jeff to start writing down his own recollections and before you know it, both Jeff and Kris become more conscious of what happened to them vis-à-vis The Sampler. Kris in effect beats The Sampler to the punch—she sees who he is but The Sampler is left trying to figure things out from what his pigs are doing. Since Kris figures out who and where he is, she goes and kills The Sampler.

Not quite the end of the story: once The Sampler is dead, Kris and Jeff can liberate the pig farm, send copies of Walden to other victims, who eventually recover their own memories, join Kris and Jeff at the pig farm, celebrate with a pig fest, no longer grow blue orchids with worms in them, thus depriving The Thief of the key ingredient in his blue orchid liquid narcotic.

In the end, what does it all mean? Carruth's Sampler villain is a weak antagonist because we never know what motivates him to do all these evil things. For Carruth, the symbolism is enough: The Sample represents evil in the world and Kris, with the aid of Jeff, eventually liberates herself from being confined against her will. There's also the ludicrous psychic connection between worms, pigs and humans which destroys any semblance of verisimilitude in the film's narrative. Kudos to Carruth for creating this gobbledygook on a shoe-string budget. But again critics be forewarned: more often than not, the emperor has no clothes!
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1/10
borderline silent film leaves much to be desired
whiteknight23128 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS AHEAD***

I HATED this movie, and so I'm going to give as much information about it as I can, in the hopes of saving spectators the loss of approximately 2 valuable hours of life.

While it pains me to admit it, Upstream Color was actually the film I was most excited to see going into the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. IMO, Shane Carruth's first film, Primer, was perhaps the best on-screen description of time travel ever made. I assumed Primer's success would have paved the way for Carruth to have more resources at his disposal, and with nearly a decade's lapse since Primer's release--he additionally has had plenty of time to craft a masterpiece. Instead, he made Upstream Color, a nearly silent film, with a plot so poorly constructed, even the writer/director himself was at a loss to explain it during a protracted, post-viewing Q&A session.

The film is divided into 3 sections. The first 1/3rd is the only part that is even remotely entertaining, with the subsequent parts feeling less like a planned movie, and more like a video project thrown together by a baret-wearing film student the night before it was due for class. The first section depicts a group of teenage boys who seem to be experimenting with a drug that is taken by swallowing a worm--similar to a tequila worm. After downing the worm, the boys engage in behavior that seems akin to a gang initiation, but with a somewhat supernatural element to it. The boys begin to perform martial arts moves while blind folded, and do so in perfect unison. This was short, interesting, and intriguing start to the story. Sadly, it is neither developed or explained in the rest of the film. After this pointless display, the story shifts to a woman named Kris, who is abducted and drugged with what seems to be the same worm-based drug from the gang kids. Only, her worm doesn't give her kung fu skills or telekinesis. Instead, she becomes completely brain washed by the guy who drugged her. The abductor proceeds to manipulate her into "giving" him all of her material wealth, and then he releases her after she's penniless. This marks the end of the first 1/3rd of the film, and the virtually the last time anything interesting happens.

In the second-third of the movie, we find Kris a shell of the person she was at the beginning, and she falls in love with a guy named Jeff. There seems to be virtually no chemistry between the two, and the only thing that seems to unite them is their weirdness from having been drugged with the worms. This marks the end of any notion a plot for the rest of the movie. For the remainder of the 2nd stanza and the entirety of the 3rd Act, there is virtually no dialogue (none at all for the last 30 minutes of the movie), and nothing but disconnected shots of people and animals (mostly pigs). There is a strange pig farmer, referred to in the credits as The Sampler, who seems to be the source of the worm drug, as well as a collector or random sounds. He never utters a word, and seems to be invisible to everyone but Kris, who shots him at the end, although it's unclear why.

Carruth said in the Q&A that he included countless shots of hands gliding past physical objects without touching them to simulate that to his characters, the substance of the world was just out of reach. He might as well has attached a prosthetic hand to the side of this movie, and shot it gliding past entertainment, but that was just out of reach too.
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8/10
An overwhelming artistic exercise in confusion worth experiencing
mattstevens16 April 2013
As you all know, with PRIMER, Shane Carruth announced himself to the world as a naturally gifted talent, one who could rival the likes of James Cameron. Of course, it never happened as he struggled to get his second film off the ground.

Nine years after PRIMER Shane Carruth's long awaited second film is as dense as expected, with an impossible to understand third act that still manages to intrigue due to its sheer technical mastery. With UPSTREAM COLOR Carruth proves he is not a one-shot wonder. He also proves he is the ultimate NYC and L.A. art-film director incapable of adapting to more mainstream story telling.

Much has been written about the plot so I will not get into the specifics here. What I will say is that I think Carruth purposely holds critical information from his films as a way to challenge viewers and force them to think. This is admirable. But in the end, a bit frustrating because with just a few answers both PRIMER and now UPSTREAM COLOR would be fit for the masses without compromising artistic integrity.

The film made sense to me for about an hour and then it started to slip away. Like with Primer, I just lost my footing and could not gain hold. Amazingly enough, I still enjoyed the experience and was never bored, In fact, at times I was held in genuine suspense.

The third act has been described as 30 minutes without dialog and that simply is not true. There are numerous sequences without dialog and about halfway through we get a major sequence of events told with visuals and music. Then we have some more conventional filmmaking (conventional is really not the right word) followed by what I think might be around 15 minutes of dialog free visuals. The ending makes no sense to me, but I will see the film again and hope to sort it out.

Carruth designed the sound and composed the music and let me tell you, he hit both out of the park. The man could work scoring films and make a great living. The same goes for his sound design.

I watched the film at IFC in New York City and they have a pretty good sound system. What they don't have is a great screen. It might be the proper widescreen aspect ratio, but the images appeared darker in sections and that harmed Carruth's amazing visuals, rumored to have been captured with a hacked $700 Pansonic DSLR (the GH2). The image is akin to a RED or Alexa and throughout Carruth plays with shallow depths of field. This results in some shots missing the sharply focused mark, but for the most part the visuals shine. This film proves you do not need Hollywood style lighting and equipment to make Hollywood level films.

The Blu-Ray will be out in May and I have already put it on order at Amazon. There is no question in my mind that by year's end I will have sat through UPSTREAM COLOR numerous times.

I look forward to Carruth's next film, but with the hope for a little more clarity in his narrative.
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4/10
Pretentious, Supposedly Art-House Including Shaky Handycam
Vlad_the_Reviewer11 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Warning, this review will be very critical so read at your own discretion.

Upstream Color, kind of falsely classified as a Science Fiction, is a fantasy drama about two people affected by a mysterious blue substance which allows them to be manipulated in a trance like state. They are fed a ringworm which leeches of the consciousness of its human hosts. The victims are manipulated into handing over their valuables.

The mastermind behind all this is called "The Thief". There's an interloper though: a person called "The Sampler". He figured out how to manipulate these people as well, and does so for his own pleasure.

At a higher level this movie addresses free will, connectivity with each other and nature. It's about two people who try to better themselves. At tangible level you won't receive any answers. It's unknown what the blue substance is, which transforms the worm into a conscious-leeching insect. It's unknown how The Thief got hold on that knowledge, it's unclear how both The Thief and The Sampler control the minds of the infected people. It's unclear what The Samplers motivation is to aimlessly play with his victims. Again, at metaphysical level I could think of a few reasons, but metaphysics is not what I'm questioning. Not providing any of these answers in the slightest is cheap in my book. Especially when the director tags it as "Science Fiction" he's misinforming his crowd.

At deeper level, things do make sense to me. I understand the metaphor of the conscious leeching worm (see Spider Wasp for a good example). The pigs and their piglets, as connectors for our protagonists to behave like distressed parents when the piglets are murdered. I recognize the life cycle from water to plant to mammals to death to water again. Rinse and repeat and the mysterious blue substance is a vessel for that cycle. And I do recognize The Sampler for what he is: a binding entity between all the elements, spiritual and natural. And I do understand that our protagonists are bettering themselves by freeing themselves from their antagonists.

This movie, though unnecessarily slow, could have been very watchable for more viewers if only it would have been executed decently. The beer budget of $50,000 is not it. Even on that budget Shane Caruth (yes, him) could have purchased a few camera stabilizers. He didn't, so we're stuck with shaky-cam footage; very annoying and for me largely unwatchable, mostly because I simply don't want to. Then there are the cuts: supposedly artistic, but I rather call it frantic. For example too much zooming-in (along with shaking), cutting halfway through objects, and the usual cliché art-house pretentiousness.

Shane Caruth himself didn't improve on his acting since Primer either: it's the way he talks. Doesn't finish sentences, stops halfway and then restarts, lots of "uh", "ah" - which is his trademark by now I'm sure - and then finally he finishes the sentence (or simply doesn't). This is what art students do with their iPhone. It doesn't belong in a movie I'm supposed to pay for.

So there's that. The shaky-cam and idiotic zooming is the worst culprit of them all. In Primer, Shane Caruth admittedly made things artificially more complex by adding unclear origins of some parallel dimensions and by introducing a red herring. Now in this movie things are made more complex because of a technical awkward implementation. The sloth of the movie becomes a challenge too as implied earlier. It wasn't implemented artsy at all: we were staring at things for too long and too many dialogs were moot.

I simply can't recommend this movie to anyone unless you're a freak like me. Hence the rating of 4 out of 10, meaning it needs two full notches before it becomes decent to look at. Story wise it's nice though, but it won't save the movie. Not to me that is.
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3/10
Tedious, pretentious and utterly exhausting
cherold14 April 2013
Upstream Color begins as a puzzling but reasonably coherent movie; much of the beginning is a disturbing and unpleasant but somewhat interesting sequence in which a woman is kidnapped and kind of hypnotized. While some of it doesn't make much sense, I could think of explanations for why things happen they way they do, and the odd, distanced, no-affect acting is appropriate to what is going on.

Unfortunately distanced characters and no-affect speaking are the rule even after that scene, and puzzling goes to flat out senseless as the movie progresses.

The movie is very much a pretentious art film in which the viewer is supposed to do the work of filling in the gaps of the movie. It is full of strange transitions, inter-cutting between scenes that seem to have nothing to do with one another or between different versions of the same thing. The movie is for people who feel things like story and character development are simple catering to the masses. It is the sort of movie that, if you hate it, you think the people who like it may just be pretending to like it to seem cool, because it is so hard to imagine anyone could genuinely enjoy this. It is a movie that resolutely makes less and less sense as it goes along, so while early on I still thought the elements might somehow be at least vaguely tied together, by the end it appeared that the director himself probably didn't even know how it all connected.

This is not to say there are no interesting ideas in the film, because there are a couple. In fact, you could take parts of this movie and make something vaguely interesting out of them. But this movie fails to use its ideas to good effect. It also never connects you to its characters, leaving you alienated and alone in a confused landscape.

While the movie looks like a puzzle to be solved, I think it is like the famous riddle from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Why is a raven like a writing desk," in which when she admits she cannot solve it she is told there is no answer. There is no answer to this movie either, although someone may eventually cobble one together, in the same way that, years later, someone answered the Raven riddle (because Poe wrote on both).

The frustrating thing is, I can't stop mulling over what it means, and yes, I am thinking of connections and possibilities. But these connections do not themselves connect. You can make some of this make sense, at least in terms of allegory, but there are always loose ends, like leftover screws in Ikea furniture. And while fans of this movie will watch it over and over, looking for clues, I would never put myself through this again, because the movie is quite boring and just plain tiring to sit through.

In looking at reviews, trying to figure out why critics love this movie, I found comments that it was brilliantly and beautifully filmed. I don't understand that reaction. From the first moment I thought it was a flat- looking, low budget movie. Competently filmed within its limitations, certainly, but that's about it.

I have a friend who will only watch indie films, and after she rejected my first three choices, we settled on this. She soon apologized for rejecting my choices (she kept complaining and apologizing, in fact, until someone in the theater told her to shut up) and promised that next time I could choose the movie.
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1/10
It takes considerable skill to make a film this bad.
suite921 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Kris is attacked one night with an electric stun device, then force-fed a worm of some sort. She gives her money to the scum who attacked her. She takes equity out of real property in which she has some ownership. Most things of value that she has she cashes in or surrenders to her abductor and parasite. Another man abducts her and transfers some of the worms to pigs that are tagged. Apparently there are other victims of this aggressive identity theft.

After the worms are removed, she slowly regains self awareness. She loses her job when she reports to work again. She challenges the bank operations she has done, but the bank has photographic evidence that she in fact instigated her own financial meltdown.

She meets Jeff, who seems to have gone through a similar process of life rape. These two broken people spend time together. Both of them have memory problems. He can hold down a job doing financial work off the record...until he decides to beat up his co-workers. She's had some sort of problem where she cannot have children. About the time he decided to lose his job, she has some sort of work related foul up. They end up cuddling in the empty bathtub with their clothes on.

At one point, the keeper of the pigs gathers up a litter from an infected mother. He ties the piglets up in a burlap bag on throws them into a stream. Everything rots. The worms travel to some orchids. The orchids are collected, packaged, and sold, complete with the parasites. Great.

The book Walden is shown, read from, discussed, and referred to during the film.

They eventually obtain some of the pig farmer's records. These include information about them, but they turn it into a mailing list. They mail a copy of Walden, and invite other victims to the pig farm.

-----Scores------

Cinematography: 0/10 Some stretches of this film show expertise. Based on that, one must figure that the poor quality of the film was a choice. Poor framing, poor focus, poor depth of field, jerky camera, massive, avoidable flair not avoided, and so on. The number of abrupt meaningless transitions is rather high, in the hundreds at least.

Sound: 0/10 The incidental music is irritating at best, mind numbingly bad at worst. The voice miking is rather variable. I had my hand on the volume control just so I could attempt to hear the dialog or not be drowned out by the atrocious music. In several passages, the visuals have the characters silent while the sound from another scene is being played. This choice not to synchronise is repellent.

Acting: 0/10 Speaking without affect: no smiles, no frowns, no sparkling eyes, no concern. Fire the casting director as well as the director. Most of all, lose the two lead actors. High school actors with calm faces could have done as well.

Screenplay: 0/10 Death by a thousand (editing) cuts. Remember the fable of 'The Emperor Has No Clothes.' This movie sucks rocks.
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1/10
Spoiler Alert
phazer90929 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Not much to follow on. My favorite part is when the man chops the tree down. Other than that, you might as well check your refrigerator to see if you need to buy some groceries or look around your home to see of the house needs some home improvement. I had some delicious Thai food and a great conversation with my girlfriend about having a new place that delivers food to her house late at night. I'm simply trying to complete my ten lines if text since it is the minimum for writing a review. Sorry there's not much to say about the movie, but there really isn't. I tried to stay interested, but just couldn't. As a matter if fact, I'm writing this review as the movie is playing. Honest. Not much going on in the movie that you can actually follow along to. So I decided to do this to kill some time while the movie finishes. Thank you for reading this.
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9/10
Stays with you
agoldstein-591-89089113 April 2013
I attended this film solo (only one other person in the theater) which turned out to be a good thing as distractions were nil. Carruth has a lot of respect for the viewer. He doesn't do exposition. And if you pay close attention to this film, you wont need it. Unlike other reviews I've seen, I found Primer much harder to suss out than Upstream Color. There was a clear narrative here and the main protagonists arc is clear to see. I loved it. It was intense, beautifully shot, scored, and of course acted, especially by Amy Seimetz, the lead. She was amazing. If you like your films delivered to you on a silver platter, then this is not for you. But if you like to think a little bit, you will find the 90+ minutes of Upstream Color thoroughly enjoyable. I hope it does very well. And I hope Carruth doesn't take another 8 yrs to do his next one.
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1/10
This movie is so bad, that it deserves review or warning.
tompuchalski30 June 2013
I think Carruth tries to say: "All of you who don't like 'Upstream Color' are too stupid to understand it". Critics who watch it and and come out with feeling of wasted two hours of life are too afraid to be labeled as stupid, so they praise the movie to look smart. Then same principle applies to viewers, they want to look smart.

In first half of XX century in Poland there was multidisciplinary (just like director, composer, actor, writer etc. etc. Carruth) artist (or "artist") who invented "Pure Form". Witkiewicz claimed that art does not need to have any meaning or content, all it needs is form. This move reminded me about Witkiewicz.

Well, now about the movie. In first few scenes it almost promises that the movie will make sense. Then it turns into "Pure Form". Final half hour reminds me how "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" by The Beatles was made (if you don't know check it on Wikipedia).

Maybe Carruth should follow Witkiewicz's example and add to end credits list of drugs taken during creation of his epic work (Witkiewicz used to annotate his paintings with such info). Somehow I feel the list would be quite long, nobody sober or clean is able to make anything even close to Upstream Color :-)
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3/10
I'll pass
shivatheauspicious5 January 2014
I mean, what can I say? After all the good reviews I'd heard over the summer about this film, Id been anxiously awaiting to see it. Like one reviewer said, the first 1/3 of the movie is really the only interesting section. The rest of it feels more like an unfinished project made by a sophomore at art school and it spends way too much time setting up plot and never fully resolving any of it. I don't mind that the plot is not nicely wrapped up and I shouldn't feel as though Im too low-brow to have a preference against that sort of thing. The problem with the film, from an objective point of view, is that the ride leading up to where you can competently piece together whats going on is not at all enjoyable. You're just sort of sitting there watching what feels like a giant series of non-events. I was pretty disappointed.
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1/10
Jodorowski rip-off. Bad one for that matter.
WeathermanTom26 October 2013
I mean, if you can only "get" what goes on in a movie when you have read the summary, then what's the point? There is nothing to figure out in this film, even though I really put a considerable amount of effort to discover some symbolism or hidden meaning somewhere amidst the irrelevant and randomly put together scenes and characters of this movie, accompanied by nostalgic music and hand-held camera shots. At least when you watch Yodorowski, you can see the symbolism, you get the pictures, maybe not 100%, but there is some meaning there, somewhere. Upstream Color is probably an ambitious -on the part of the director- effort to try and make a seemingly "futuristic" film, with a Lynchian and Yodorowskian feel added to it, but, to my mind, fails miserably.
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2/10
The beginning was brilliant, the rest was trite, sophomoric, tedious.
victoriamenchu23 April 2013
The brainwashing scenes in the beginning were great and the soundtrack brilliant. When the parts came together and the themes point to the nature of consciousness and life, it becomes incredibly predictable and tedious. If you have just begun to contemplate existence, this film may seem "deep" to you. I found it's metaphors so simplistic that it was laughable. The scenes were shot beautifully, and if rewoven it could be a masterpiece. I did appreciate that it was not a pleasant film, and in that way it avoids many of the formulaic trappings of most films, but lacks any real substance to make it a worthwhile experience. It would make a wonderful episode of Mystery Science 3000. Admittedly, I do want hold piglets and listen to this soundtrack.
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1/10
Good Rating For A Bad Movie
fever_20228 July 2013
I was invited by a good friend, along to see this film, which was being shown as part of an arts festive near where I live. I knew nothing of the film (not even the name) before I saw it. All I knew was that it had been given great reviews and had even been nominated for an award at the Canne festival. I do enjoy, off the wall, indie movies so my hope were positive.

I soon felt otherwise, as before the film began, we, the audience, were introduced to the film by a psychiatrist, who tried to explain the plot (and I used the word plot in the kindest possible way as there is none) and advised the audience that we would perhaps not understand all the we see in the upcoming film. Un understatement if ever I heard one.

The cast play characters with little or no lines, dirfting from one meaningless scene to the next. With random music, scenes, and actions, happening without reason. I was shocked to read that Upstream Color has received wide critical acclaim. For what? It has no story, no meaningful characters, no insights into any real issue. It may perhaps be of use to psychiatrist, or whose studying the subject, for reasons unknown to me or most that have had to go through the punishment of sitting for an hour and a half of NOTHING.

This is the film equivalent of the emperor's new clothes. Film critics and their pompous arrogant "lovies" couldn't dare be seen not to understand and applaud this film, when the simple fact is its a badly written, no story, poorly filmed 90+ minutes of trash, that could easy be mistaken for a joke by a stoned teenager if it was not so bad.

If I could score it 0 out of 10, I would.
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2/10
a triumph of pretension over lucidity
RichardSRussell-14 August 2013
Upstream Color (1:36, NR) — 2 — borderline, bargain basement, original

Shane Carruth is justly famed in SF fandom for Primer, an ultra, super, hyper low-budget film shot in a storage locker with a cast of about 2.5 where you spend most of the movie wondering exactly what the heck is going on here. But, once you do, you can't help but admire the cleverness of how you were set up for it.

So I had hopes for Upstream Color, Carruth's 2nd feature, which he spent 9 years building up to. As with Primer, Carruth wrote, directed, produced, acted in, edited, and scored the film, and also spent some time running the camera. Unfortunately, in this one you spend ALL of the movie wondering exactly what the heck is going on here.

It's not quite a silent film, but don't count on the dialog for help in figuring out what's up. For the first 15 minutes it's minimally audible mundanities; for the last half hour, it's totally non- existent; and in between it's sparse, sporadic, and largely soporific. For almost all of it there's subtle, atonal, pulsing background tones which I don't think really qualifies as music but which does serve to create a sense of unease and everything being somewhat off.

The plot, such as I could decipher it, is that an unfortunate young woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), gets tasered into unconsciousness and has a parasitic worm literally forced down her throat. It seems to make her hypnotically suggestible, during which  time her mainly unseen assaulter runs her thru a series of odd exercises, including looting her bank account. Gradually she seems to return to normal, but by then she's been missing from work for some time and her credit is completely shot, so she loses her job.

We next pick up on her some time later (the time lapse indicated by a noticeably shorter hair style) as this guy on a train, Jeff (Carruth) spots her and uses really crappy, creepy pick-up techniques on her which nonetheless eventually prove successful.

Meanwhile, intercut thru all of this (and there is a LOT of cutting in this movie — seldom does a given shot last more than 5 seconds) is this sound engineer who spends a lot of his time in a fenced-in pigpen for no apparent reason and never utters a word.

These are the more or less intelligible parts of the movie. Most of it is less accessible.

This is a triumph of pretension over lucidity.
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