Sunday, February 06, 2005

Review - Primer

There’s one thing I can guarantee all viewers who sit down to watch Primer - you will be confused. At most, I probably understood about a quarter of this insanely convoluted film, the zero-budget debut of filmmaker Shane Carruth. However, despite the fact that it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, it could be one of the best American films of the year.

The plot begins with four friends inventing something in their garage, they aren’t sure exactly what it does but it certainly does something. Aaron (Carruth himself), Abe (David Sullivan), Robert (Casey Gooden) and Philip(Anand Upadhyaya) have differing ideas on how to proceed with their product. The more commercially-minded Robert and Philip are keen to cash-in on what they have and attempt to sell it immediately but Aaron and Abe are keen to investigate their invention further.

Soon they discover the machine has the ability to distort time, and further experiments seem to indicate that it could have the same effect for humans. Building bigger versions of the machine, they start to send themselves back in time for a couple of hours, taking great care not to cause any interruptions of history in the process. But when they try to change events during their trips, the consequences of their actions spin out of their control.

After that, you’re on your own. I’m not sure how to explain the various plot developments which follow as Carruth starts to examine the loopholes, paradoxes and complexities of time travel. As Aaron and Abe jump repeatedly back in time, another version of themselves is walking around in this time, if you see what I mean, and Carruth continues to pile layer upon layer until it becomes almost incomprehensible. But it’s fascinating to try and peel those layers away and attempt to unlock the mysteries at Primer’s core. Carruth never makes any concessions to the audience and is determined to follow the film’s own logic to the climax. Unfortunately, the film spirals completely out of control in the last 15 minutes as the script descends into a sea of non-sequiturs and plot twists.

Shot for $7,000, Primer is a terrific achievement. The sharp cinematography and classy camerawork makes the film look much more expensive than it is and everything appears professional despite being made by a bunch of first-timers in their homes and garages. The script, impenetrable as it may be, is still intriguing, surprising and offers some witty dialogue (“I’m starving, I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon”).

Running for only 78 minutes Primer doesn’t outstay its welcome and offers hope that there’s an exciting new filmmaker on the scene in the shape of Shane Carruth (who also scored, edited and shot the film). If you’re looking for something different then you really should see Primer, and then you’ll have to see it again to just to try and figure out what the hell is going on. I was left completely flummoxed by it but I can’t wait for a second viewing.

*At the time of writing there is unfortunately no sign of a UK release date for Primer.