Film Review: Upstream Color

Upstream Color

Whilst a club Kris (Amy Seimetz) is kidnapped and drugged using some kind of larval parasite which makes her incredibly susceptible to suggestion. After eventually being freed by her captor, Kris has no knowledge of what’s happened to her and meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) who appears to have suffered a similar experience and with whom she has some kind of instinctive bond. 

Think of Upstream Color’s narrative as a balance beam covered in washing up liquid. The first few steps are pretty easy but at some point you’ll probably begin to wobble and slip. You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on staying on course and if you lose your concentration for a moment then you’ll likely fall off. However, if you concentrate then you might just make it to the end.

See, there’s a good chance that at some point during Upstream Color you’ll wonder what the hell is going on. Just when you think you fully understand what’s going on and you start to relax, it’ll throw you a curveball and make you question everything you’ve already seen. You’ll question what’s real, who’s who and what on Earth the pigs have to do with it all. It doesn’t quite cross the line into surrealism but there’s definitely an abstract nature to it that lets the viewer come to their own conclusion on meaning and significance.

Upstream Color

The film has a very oneiric, almost other wordly, quality throughout which adds to the belief that not everything is as it seems. The score (also done by Carruth) also plays a big part in this, the near-constant, often monotone music rising and falling throughout, almost as if trying to lull you into a trance.

Whether Upstream Color is for you will very much depend on what you look for from your films. If you want something with a traditional narrative that you can switch off to then stay well away. However, if you want something that’s going to test you a little and you don’t mind having to join some of the dots yourself then there’s a lot here to enjoy.

Personally, I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t totally understand what was going on at all times. I definitely wobbled on that balance beam a few times but just managed to stay on, and the film’s conclusion does just enough to wrap things up if you’ve paid enough attention. It might be a little too abstract for its own good at times but the majority of the film is mesmerising and wholly unique, at least to my eyes.

You’ll likely either enjoy Upstream Color or not take to it at all, but it’s without a doubt a film you’ll have an opinion on. Some will love it, others will hate it, but I guarantee you won’t have seen anything like it.


  • Unique concept
  • Great cinematography
  • Mesmerising score


  • Sometimes a little too abstract for its own good

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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29 thoughts on “Film Review: Upstream Color

  1. Stu says:

    Nice to see you back mate, and glad you got to see this. I agree with pretty much everything you say here – it’s unique and very interesting. I also struggled to understand what was going on at times – I had Wikipedia open and referred to the plot summary on at least 3 occasions! I think I’d have been lost had I seen it in a cinema, but just as impressed nonetheless.

    • Cheers man, good to finally post something up! Haha I must confess I also had to look up certain things on Wikipedia! The whole pig farmer thing where they can’t see him really baffled me. But like you say, it’s still impressive.

      • Stu says:

        Ha yeah, that was weird. And I was lost with the whole club / abduction / drugging thing at the start, too.

  2. Hi Chris, great review. I think I would like it — abstract is fun. And nothing beats a good score. “oneiric” — seems like surreal, like a David Lynch film.

  3. ianthecool says:

    I slipped right off that beam! I’m okay with non-traditional narratives, but I think just that in and of itself isnt enough. It still needs to intrigue me, and this one didn’t. What did you think of the characters?

    • It’s definitely easy to fall off with this one, I think I just about kept with it, but it came very close to losing me. I thought the characters were OK but didn’t do massive amounts for me to be honest. It was the intrigue of what the hell was going on that kept me watching rather than the characters.

  4. Great review. Glad to see you back!

  5. CMrok93 says:

    This is a rather strange movie, but it worked so well for me. I don’t know how or why, but it just did. Good review.

  6. Hunter says:

    Glad to see you back! I still have yet to see this film, but I’m very interested in giving it a shot. I’ll probably be totally lost, but as long as there are some themes to latch onto, I’ll probably be okay. Hopefully. Nice review!

  7. Tyson Carter says:

    Sounds intriguing…….

    Good to see you writing less than me at the minute 😉

  8. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I thought Upstream Color was amazing, even though I didn’t completely understand the plot. I’d recommend Carruth’s Primer if you haven’t seen it; it’s less surreal and dreamy but still equally complex.

  9. Loved Primaer, still can’t believe I haven’t seen this yet. Jeez, I need to sort this out. Great post Christopher 🙂

  10. ruth says:

    Hi Chris, welcome back, we’ve missed you! Glad to hear your shoulder is mending. I haven’t seen this one but I know Keith loves this too so I’m curious. I did like Holy Motors which was rather bizarre as well, so I might enjoy this too 🙂

    • Thanks Ruth, it’s good to be back! Felt good to actually post something. I haven’t seen Holy Motors but have read that it’s very odd indeed! This actually seems less odd than that so you might really like this.

  11. hybridZone says:

    The reminds me of Primer in its confusing plot points

  12. Nice review here. This was my favorite film of 2013, and while I love everything about it, I agree that it is in no way for everyone. I too can’t say I “get” everything that’s going on, but I am utterly entranced by it. Such a special and unique film.

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