A sci-fi story to melt your mind

Shane Carruth’s surreal brain-bender Upstream Color, screening for a short run at the PHI Centre, is an uncanny, beautiful and breathtaking cinematic experience.

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color

Narcotic hypno-tequila-worm farmers. Field recordings feeding telepathic pig transcendence. Decomposing flesh bleeding super-science pigment, bearing the seed that starts the cycle anew.

That zen-haiku word-barf pretty much sums up the plot to writer/director/producer Shane Carruth’s second mind-fuck sci-fi film, Upstream Color (his first, 2004‘s Primer, completed on a budget of only $7,000, still reigns as one of the most brilliant, if understated, time travel films ever made). It also approximates the inexplicable sensation of attempting to follow the flow of its narrative. While it’s certainly not impossible to puzzle out, the average human is clearly expected to consume a healthy dose of narcotic brain-aid before sinking into the depths of this uncanny, beautiful and breathtaking cinematic experience.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) is force-fed a hypno-worm and is swayed to give up her savings, her house and her entire life. Left with little but a writhing, growing worm under her skin, she’s finally afforded freedom from her stringy, mind-controlling affliction by a mysterious farmer (Andrew Sensenig) who transfers the creature into the guts of one of his pigs. Kris eventually meets Jeff, played by Carruth himself, who has suffered the same fate and who now, strangely, shares memories with her. Time and identity merge for the lovers as they grow closer, marry and seek answers in a farm full of wormy pigs.

See? Weird. But the film doesn’t play anything like the description reads. It’s a twisted poem, stunning in every detail and dripping with emotion, often giving the feeling of a work penned by David Lynch and lensed by Terrence Malick. There isn’t a moment where Carruth allows his characters to describe what they’re doing for the audience’s benefit. You glean plot from the sequence of beautifully rendered images on screen (shot and co-edited by Carruth) and mood from the sensitive, ambient score (composed by Carruth). You get to know Kris and Jeff as they talk to each other about themselves in very recognizable, human dialogue. There’s no bullshit expository blabber to clue you in to the secrets of Upstream Color. You just have to swallow the worm and suss out the answers for yourself. ■

Upstream Color screens at the PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre) Friday April 26, 7 p.m., Saturday April 27, 8 p.m., Monday April 29, 7 p.m. and Tuesday April 30, 7 p.m. All screenings are $11.25.