Sundance London 2013: Upstream Colour

Shane Carruth’s enigmatic love story and sci-fi can be interpreted in many ways.

Shane Carruth made a huge impression with his Sundance award-winning microbudget 2004 debut Primer, a naturalistic but mindbending time-travel film that was refreshingly rooted in normality - the intricate workings of a bunch of engineers working to reduce the weight of an object who accidentally make the biggest discovery in the scientific world. Made for an astonishing $7000, it attracted the attention of Rian Johnson, who name-checked Carruth in the credits for Looper.

Carruth not only starred in Primer, he wrote, directed, produced, photographed, edited and composed the score for the film. He does likewise for his eagerly-awaited follow-up, Upstream Colour. What an achievement - it shows how far the maths graduate and former software engineer has come as a filmmaker after his appealingly rough and ready debut. A haunting, baffling but enthralling mystery, it evokes the dreamy work of young sci-fi writer, producer and actress Brit Marling (Sound of my Voice), along with the abstract vibe of Terrence Malick’s last couple of films.

Upstream Colour is best enjoyed cold, allowing events to unfold in their vague, slightly disconcerting way. Amy Seimetz (A Horrible Way to Die, The Killing) stars as Kris, a young professional who is drugged in the most bizarre, organic way, and endures the strangest crime. Carruth himself is Jeff, who encounters Kris as she is rebuilding her life. The two are drawn together as the film follows the forces around them - think plants, livestock and organisms. A pig farmer and sound recorder tunes into the sounds of nature, as his intentions are revealed.

This enigmatic love story can be interpreted in many ways. Is it an examination of the materialistic rat race? Is it a devastating love story set amongst economic depression? Does it show that we live lives against our wills and natural instincts? It’s a beautiful, poetic piece that may be infuriatingly obscure for some, but certainly crawls under the skin in every way possible.

Carruth is a bold, singular force in filmmaking, forging his own path. Every scene is loaded with potential and means something - not a moment is wasted. It may be sacrilege to say, but this feels like the film the infuriating Tree of Life should have been.

Rating: 8/10