Shot on a $7000 budget and the winner for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, "Primer" is a love it or hate it film about the consequences of time travel and the confusion that arises when you mess with reality. Yes, some will hate this fine little gem, but those who love to be completely and utterly confused will have found a new prize in "Primer."
Writer/director/actor Shane Carruth has created a mini-masterpiece here, turning his small budget into a tense and amazingly claustrophobic thriller about two men who accidentally create a machine that can cause limited time travel - and as we all know from "Back to the Future," messing with time is not something that should be taken lightly. Specifically, these two guys named Aaron and Abe (Carruth and co-star David Sullivan, respectively) who appear to be pulled right out of the drudgery of "Office Space" have taken to their garage to build the next great invention. When they finally create something, however, they don't know what application it serves - until they discover that they have found a loophole in time. Many movies have tried and failed at delivering a serious and believable time travel story, but "Primer" pulls it off with ease, albeit with its fair share of technobabble. Regardless, the creation and execution of this makeshift time machine is never cheesy or silly, which is the crucial step in taking such a story to the next level.
The film is cold and claustrophobic from beginning to end, shot with a lot of bright and dark filters and never much color. The entire world these men live in is all but sterile, and Carruth, as director, has given this bland world a creepy life of its own. Each scene is delivered with chilling and tense dialogue, as Carruth has carefully crafted the screenplay to make the audience guess what the actors are talking about every step of the way. Very rarely does the screenplay ever directly tell the audience what is happening in any one scene, which perhaps is a way to get you thinking early on.
Because you are going to need those thinking caps. The first half of the movie is pretty simple, as the characters figure out how to use their machine. And then, suddenly, you blink and realize you're lost. "Primer" suddenly blindsides you with layer upon layer of plot twists, all made more confusing by the fact that there is more than one version of the characters running around (because if you go back in time your past self will still be hanging around doing whatever he was doing). Honestly, "Primer" is one of the most confusing movies I have ever seen, and if you stop paying attention for even a second you will become completely lost. If you pay attention the entire time, you'll only be lost for about ninety percent of the time.
Strangely enough, the movie's creativity is also its most inherent flaw, depending on the person watching the film. Undoubtedly, there are people out there who don't like to be confused. There are people who will find this movie so confusing that they'll convince themselves that it doesn't make sense. That's fine. Not everyone's going to enjoy this movie. But all I can say is, "wow." "Primer" is an incredible feat, a movie that will need to be watched more than once, or even many times, just to get a partial grasp of what takes place in the last thirty minutes. Even better, the movie is fast-paced from beginning to end thanks to its tight 80-minute running time. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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