• Primer (2004) — May be dry and complicated, but it’s extremely facinating, 6/10.
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~~ Review Script ~~
This science fiction drama film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, and eventually scored $424,000 at the box office following a limited release in October of that year. On a minuscule budget of only $7,000 former engineer and mathematics graduate Shane Curruth basically created this entire picture by himself, serving as director, producer, writer, actor, composer, and editor. So let that be a lesson to aspiring filmmakers: if you have a dream, and enough money to buy a used Toyota Corolla, you really can make a feature film all by yourself.
The PG-13 rated plot follows Carruth and David Sullivan as two fledging entrepreneurs who inadvertently build a time machine in their garage, and begin experimenting with it. Interestingly though, the phrases “time travel” and “time machine” are never used once in the complicated script, which has not been simplified at all for audiences. In a medium saturated with dumbed-down exposition, this intelligent approach is certainly commendable, but it can also be frustrating. The audience is largely kept in the dark as we watch the brainy protagonists solve their scientific dilemmas.
Their performances are serviceable for the technical aspects, but when it comes to the picture’s few dramatic moments, it’s obvious they’re amateurs. Although “Primer” is a very short 77-minutes, the material is so dense it feels like a much longer production. There’s no fat on this story, everything has been trimmed down to the bare essentials of storytelling. And for better or worse: there’s absolutely zero backstory or character development, as the narrative begins without an introduction as to who these people are, or what they’re doing. The audience is given no clue as to whether they’re building a transporter or a toaster oven.
Eventually though, we see they’ve constructed a pair of refrigerator sized boxes that allow its occupants real time backwards movement through the fourth dimension. It’s extremely fascinating to see how these characters analytically use this power in incrementally more courageous amounts; first to make modest income on the stock market, and later to stop a violent attack. Remarking on paradoxical consequences, Carruth questions his friend, “What’s worse, thinking you’re being paranoid or knowing you should be?”
Often bathed in overly orange hues, the visuals here are decidedly plain and unremarkable. Carruth’s abilities as an editor however are a touch better, utilizing the occasional jump cut to illustrate the characters’ disorientation when time shifting. For those interested in the hypothetical science of time travel, this picture does a fantastic job of exploring those concepts and ideas. And if you manage to understand all of the temporal twists, you’re smarter than I am- because even after a second viewing, I had a very difficult time figuring it out.
The movie just sort of ends though, without properly examining the moral implications of manipulating the time-line. “Primer” may be dry and complicated, but it’s extremely fascinating, and a GOOD movie.