It seems that my wife and I are the only ones that didn’t fully appreciate the unconventional indie time travel movie by freshman director Shane Carruth, Primer. We felt that it didn’t speak to us, spoke over us and left us in the dust and out of the secret to the plot. I understand people admiring the directorial choices; it just wasn’t for us.
Tonight I thought I would stay up to watch the just over 1.5 hour sophomore effort of Carruth, Upstream Color, currently streaming (pun not intended) on Netflix. I told my wife that I would “regret it” and I am surprised to say that it wasn’t as obscure as Primer. Simply, the plot follows two people, Kris (Amy Semetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth) as they are separately drugged with a sort of bug concoction that makes them subject to follow every order. When the two stumble across each other, the drug acts as a magnetic attraction; they share the same thoughts and memories. That’s as much as I want to go into it for fear of confusion.
And that’s how I felt during Primer, just confused and lost. I think I would have been that way as well with Upstream Color if I hadn’t followed the wiki synopsis. Carruth doesn’t hold your hand and he doesn’t do much to guide you through his narrative either. Part of this is because he the way is edited is full of jump cuts and disconnected action. That’s my major gripe with the movie.
In movie production there is pre-production, principle photography, and post-production. I loved what they did in the principle photography stage. Every shot was beautiful, especially for a sophomore director. But the script felt pretty empty, not that the narrative wasn’t good. The dialogue was sparse so I just don’t know what was on the sheets. Basically, the writing wasn’t on the screen. And, as I said, the constant jump cuts and montage after montage was jarring and frankly annoying.
Other than those few things, I think that this was an excellent exercise in narrative art. All the plot points were luckily connected well enough to give the viewer a cerebral experience with these characters. Carruth is setting himself to be an independent and clear voice of auteurship even if he’s making these films for a modest audience and himself.
For anyone that wants to experience something different while having their mind worked over, this may be for you. Just don’t watch it if you’re too sleepy.