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'Upstream Color' casts mystifying, haunting spell

  • Shane Carruth wrote, directed and stars in "Upstream Color."

    Associated Press

    Shane Carruth wrote, directed and stars in "Upstream Color."

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
  • Shane Carruth wrote, directed and stars in "Upstream Color."

    Associated Press

    Shane Carruth wrote, directed and stars in "Upstream Color."

In the early going of "Upstream Color," one might almost conclude that a trackable story is emerging: We witness a young woman (Amy Seimetz) kidnapped, drugged and apparently robbed.
Yes, the fact that she seems to have ingested some sort of evil worm hints at a science-fiction overtone, but we can handle that. And yes, the style is elliptical, and there's a dreamy gauziness to the images.
But surely this movie will be easier to follow than, say, "Primer," that wonderfully convoluted time-travel indie from director-writer-actor Shane Carruth, which came out in 2004. Internet chat rooms are still buzzing with theories about that one.
Hang on -- you say "Upstream Color" is also directed and written by Carruth, his first film since "Primer"? Then forget about the "trackable" part. Hang on to your armrest, or let yourself dissolve into the oneness of the universe; there's no middle ground when it comes to appreciating this movie.
The character played by Seimetz re-enters the world after her ordeal and meets a man (played by Carruth) who seems to have undergone something similar. Theirs is a love story, and I think "Upstream Color" is above anything else a love story, a very mysterious look at how two humans can possibly find common ground with each other.
But there's also horticulture, and a pig farm that plays a prominent role, and the fact that our grounding in any particular time is uncertain. (I look forward to seeing color-coded charts detailing this movie's timeline--and this one's not even about time travel. Er, I think.)
I am not entirely certain about what Carruth's aim is, as a filmmaker. Is his project to make us see in such a new way that we can only comprehend his films after 10 years have passed? Is "Upstream Color" the worm injected into our system that alters our consciousness just enough so that the world doesn't look quite the way it did before?
This film has a lush play of sound and music, and the visual scheme is fetching, even if it occasionally tips over into "Tree of Life"-style eye candy. As for understanding exactly what's going on here, well, best of luck with that.
But something is going on. And whatever it is, it's weirdly haunting (and it elicits a terrific performance from Amy Seimetz, star of the locally made gem "The Off Hours").
Is this lab experiment the future of movies, or just a lyrical offshoot? Get into an altered state and find out.
"Upstream Color" (3½ stars)
A new film by "Primer" director Shane Carruth, which might be a love story couched in science fiction, but possibly not. The mystifying situation doesn't prevent the movie from creating a haunting spell, nor take away from a terrific central performance by Amy Seimetz.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for violence, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood 7.
Story tags » Movies

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