Upside Down is a thoroughly bizarre film spawned from somewhere in the imagination of writer/director Juan Solanas, the premise of which is that there exist two human-inhabited worlds of vastly different socio-economic statuses within spitting distance of each other (perhaps 1-2 km judging by the size of mountains, etc).
As you can see, it is in the above paragraph where we lose any sort of scientific accuracy and enter the realms of the bat-shit crazy. One would expect two planets that close to each other would have collided or torn each other apart in each others’ gravitational fields and if by some miracle they stayed where they are without incident there certainly would be no way for the sun to reach them to the scale shown in the film. However, sometimes you just have to roll with it.
Despite the completely insane implausibility of the concept, a set of universal rules are quickly established that allow you to suspend your disbelief and just get on with things:
1. Matter created (including humans) on one world are exclusively tied to the gravity of that world and will only fall towards it, no matter how close to the opposite world they get. This leads to a lot of creative scenes, especially when people from each world interact in the world-spanning Transcorp building and allows for some particularly inventive solutions on the part of the main character.
2. Matter created on one world will slowly begin to heat up and eventually combust when in close proximity to matter from the opposite world (allowing impoverished people from the poor world, arbitrarily named “Down Below” in the film, to use scavenged materials from “Up Above” as fuel sources), creating the bulk of the obstacles to our protagonist’s aforementioned solutions.
Now we have our mechanics, let’s have a look at the visuals:
As you can see, the cinematography does a lot of wonderful things for the film with a style vaguely reminiscent of Inception and the 2014 remake of Total recall. They really manage to hammer home the double-world concept but sometimes it feels like they prefer to use it to distract the viewer from any problems with a generous dose of "ooh, shiny!".
The bulk of the story revolves around the protagonist, a man from Down Below called Adam (played by Jim Sturgess) falling in love with a girl from Up Above by the name of Eden (Kirsten Dunst) starting when they meet as children. Human nature being unfortunately what it is, worldism (I probably made that word up) is extremely rife and interaction between worlds is forbidden, outside of business of course. The two of them get caught, Eden bangs her head, gets amnesia, and the pair do not see each until ten years later when Adam randomly sees her on television broadcast from Up Above.
Now we have our driving force and Adam hatches a hare-brained scheme to find her, leading to an entertaining array of shenanigans involving stolen metal weights to keep him anchored to Up Above, plus a borrowed suit and a lot of hairspray to give him the appearance of a native. The film creates a nice bit of tension surrounding the fear of discovery, especially when the above-mentioned rules come into play to cause Adam’s weights combust and burn him.
Unfortunately it’s also around this time that the film starts to fall apart in relation to its own rules. If all matter combusts after prolonged contact with opposite-world matter then why, if Adam is in contact long enough for freaking metal to ignite, have his clothes not gone up in smoke long before? And what about Adam himself; he should really have been getting quite a bit toasty. Or is there some unexplained rule that excludes organic matter?
Despite the entertainment value of Adam’s shenanigans, and the incredible scenery brought up at an almost obnoxious frequency, the lack of on-screen chemistry between Sturgess and Dunst just makes the story feel a bit forced and leads to a very unsatisfying climax that seems to just pop out of nowhere and expects you to just go along with it.
All in all, Upside Down is a very pretty film with a very interesting premise that unfortunately fell a bit short of its full potential. Nevertheless it’s a moderately entertaining watch if you just switch off your brain and submit to the nice blue glow.