Sunday, December 14, 2014

An indie film with some great mind control

A good while ago (too long ago for me to remember when or who told me about it) one of my blog commenters told me the film Upstream Color had some great MC scenes. It's taken me until now to rent it, but it was definitely worth the wait. I'd say that even if I wasn't an MC fetishist, because it's a great story, period; and I like it even better after letting it percolate in my brain for a day.

Here's a synopsis that's moderately spoilerish, because I know which parts of the story will interest my readers; and those parts just are spoilerish. But don't worry; I won't reveal the ending.

There's an organism, maybe alien but probably natural, that has a multi-stage life cycle. In one stage it infests a grub, and a person who ingests the grub goes into a trance in which s/he can be manipulated by another person. The grub grows into a worm, still inside the victim, but there's a character known only as the Sampler (more on him in a minute) who's learned how to extract the worm and implant it in an animal. When the animal dies, its decaying body produces the blue powdery material that infests the grubs.

So far it sounds like the kind of squicky story you'd expect to find on the EMCSA, right? But here's where the movie takes that squick. As the film begins, our heroine Kris is kidnapped and implanted with a grub. That in itself is a great scene as a stranger Tases her, drags her out into a rainy alley, and forces her to swallow the grub. She gets up choking and tries to run away, but then the trance takes hold and she slows down and begins to turn back toward the Thief (the only name he's given in the credits). He makes her take him home and spends several days with her, making her empty her bank accounts for him. You'll find all kinds of great MC in this part of the film, with Kris wandering around blank-eyed or focusing with childlike concentration on childlike tasks or reciting conversations from memory in a staccato monotone.

Then the Thief abandons her and the Sampler takes over. This second man gets his name from his audio samplings that, for whatever reason, exert an influence over the grub-infected. He summons Kris to him, extracts the now-good-sized worm, and implants it in a pig. And that's where the real story begins. The Sampler is a pig farmer, and each of his pigs carries a worm he extracted from someone. The worm creates a psychic link between the pig and the human ex-host, and the Sampler can spy on those people and continue to influence them with the music he makes from his audio samples.

When Kris comes around, she doesn't remember anything that happened and believes (apparently due to a hypnotic suggestion from the Thief) that she had the flu. Then she meets Jeff, another victim who was left with a much worse suggestion: that he lost his wife and his money because he was a junkie. Kris and Jeff begin a relationship even as "their" pigs do the same; and for reasons I won't specify, they gradually realize what's happened to them.

Now here's the weirdest part of all. I could have sworn I read a spoiler for this film a long time ago; so I spent the whole movie expecting certain things to happen which didn't happen, and certain things not to happen which did. Again, I won't spoil the real ending, but here's how I thought it was going to turn out. If I'd been right, the movie would have been even hotter from an MC standpoint.

I believed the Thief was a grub victim himself, and that he was now compelled to infect more people, thus spreading the Sampler's control. I didn't know why he stole all Kris' money, but I figured it had something to do with the Sampler's plans for world domination. His experiments with noise/music, and their effects on Kris and Jeff, made me think he was seeking ways to control his victims' every waking moment. He was a criminal mastermind biding his time on a pig farm until he was ready to take over the planet. I thought Kris and Jeff would finally confront him only to find they were still helpless in the parasites' grip; they'd had no choice but to go forth like the Thief and make more converts. I could totally write that up as an EMC tale if Shane Carruth didn't hold copyright. Good thing he's a master storyteller, or I'd be seriously put out with him.

Below is the trailer, which includes a good slice of Kris' trance experience (interspersed with other things, of course) beginning at 2:09. Enjoy, and if you see/have seen the movie, let me know what you think.


Brin said...

Right, this movie. I haven't actually seen it, but one day a few months back I stumbled across the Wikipedia article on it. Reading the Wikipedia plot summary is uncannily like reading a dream journal entry for a hypno-fetishist's erotic nightmare, right down to the dream logic. ("He uses an elaborate set of distractions, such as getting her to create a paper chain where each link features a transcription from the book Walden, in order to distract her while performing his mind control.") I decided not to even try seeking it out, because I couldn't quite shake the feeling that I would be snooping in someone's private dream.

thrall said...

You should definitely watch it. I'm not entirely sure I understand your reason for hesitating, but the writer/director/star Shane Carruth is by no means a hypno-fetishist. He uses mind control to tell a larger story, and although the MC scenes are erotic from a fetishist's perspective, you won't feel dirty for watching them because of what happens to Kris and Jeff once they start putting the pieces together.

Reavan said...

Wow! Thank you much for this! The film is amazing, and despite the lack of direct eroticism, the implications of it are worth it!

Sian Pearl said...

Weirdly, I watched this film last night. The MC scenes are great, but like you said, it's a much better film for it being about something more. I loved it loads. Have you seen Primer (Carruth's other movie)? It's not MC at all but hugely interesting.

thrall said...

No, I haven't seen Primer, but I've heard it's fantastic. I do *want* to see it.

I'm glad you enjoyed Upstream Color too. It'll be interesting to see what Shane Carruth does next.