Tag Archives: experiment

Movie Review: Upstream Color

by Dan Fields

Upstream Color (2013, directed by Shane Carruth) International Poster
© 2013 ERBP

Suffer The Little Piglets

Following the cult success of his time-travel drama Primer, writer/director/star Shane Carruth now reaches further into the cosmos for Upstream Color, a speculative tale that invites interpretation but resists explanation. Dealing in altered perception and mysterious invasions, the movie weaves strange patterns in time and space, leaving its own sense of reality open to doubt. It has the surreal quality of a bad dream, but its examinations of control, manipulation, fear, grief and love ring true. A fanciful premise does not prevent the film from resonating powerfully in a real-world context.

This is the sort of film of which any discussion is a tricky prospect, as the advancement of the story depends on details that a critic should probably not reveal. Upstream Color is the story of a bizarre life cycle, which inhabits and thereby connects a series of everyday organisms with no apparent relation. But is it truly a parasite that forges links between its various hosts, or does Carruth mean to reveal a network of abstract, mostly invisible connections that already exist at nature’s fundamental level? In either case, the unexpected interplay between minds and souls throughout Upstream Color is both moving and terrifying. Scientific and metaphysical ambiguity form a large part of this movie’s appeal, so those in search of a concrete solution are sure to be frustrated. For those who like to question, interpret, and puzzle over the meaning of a story, this is a film of rare and unique beauty. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #9: Howie Askins’s Evidence

by Dan Fields
First published October 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review

DVD cover for Evidence directed by Howie Askins
© 2012 RynoRyder Productions

For A Weekend In The Country

If you feel you must milk yet another horror movie out of the bloated found footage craze, please do everyone a favor and follow three basic guidelines: make it short, make it as scary as possible, and bring it to an unexpected conclusion.

Although Paranormal Activity 4 stumbled on its own disappointing sameness, there have been several recent entries in the genre to play by these rules. V/H/S kept itself exceedingly brief and to the point, and the two-part Grave Encounters saga defied all reasonable expectations with a series of truly jarring, if not entirely cohesive, moments of horror.

Of all these contemporary cousins, Evidence fits the proper criteria to top the list. Despite its vague initial motivation, it wastes no time in casting its blithe, carefree protagonists into a supremely weird and terrifying ordeal.

Evidence initially poses as a documentary project of questionable value at best, but soon becomes a record of severe importance. Cameraman Ryan wishes to tape a camping trip led by his friend Brett and co-starring their girlfriends Abi and Ashley. Why Ryan wants to do this is lost in that swampy mire of why most found footage protagonists leave the camera running at all inappropriate times. The implied reasons are that he wants to test out his awesome new camera, and also happens to be just a bit emotionally unstable. This fascination with self-documenting would probably work better with a younger cast of kids. In fact, this might have been a bolder choice all around, although it may have also required the sacrifice of some of the film’s sexual overtones. In any case, on this flimsy but acceptable narrative pretext, the unwitting youths set off in a borrowed camper for the great outdoors.

Everyone seems to be having a good time until the party picks up signs that they are not alone in the wilderness. Sightings of distant, unidentifiable critters in the vicinty put everybody except Ryan on edge. Despite their repeated pleas to pack up and return to civilization, he insists that they stay and let him have his fun with the camera. All concerned come to regret this decision in time.

This is a setup we have all seen a hundred times. What makes Evidence so much fun is where things proceed from such a conventional jumping-off point. To deal out further plot details would be a disservice. The most glib and reductive way to describe Evidence is as a hybrid of Chronicle, Chernobyl Diaries and The Cabin In The Woods. However, an eager minority are bound to consider that a stellar pedigree. And to give fair credit, this movie was in production, and probably completed, before any of the others ever saw the light of a projector. It may lack polish, but it looks good and manages to spin a fascinating yarn with refreshing economy and nerve-shattering atmosphere. The payoff of Evidence is well worth your attention during a first act as familiar as the safety briefing on a commercial airline. When dread explodes into sheer madness, you may well find yourself caught with white knuckles and your hair on end. And what more, really, could you ask?