"Made on a budget of $7000, this is an incredible achievement."

Now is the only moment that has to make sense.

Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are the leading brains behind a gang of boffins, struggling to cope with the blandness of their lives, by working on science projects in their garage, hoping to create something that will make their names and their fortunes. While attempting to harness room temperature super conduction to allow diamagnetism for levitation, they stumble upon a side effect that allows them to travel through time in a limited capacity.

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After the usual forays into personal gain - the stock market is so dull when you know the future - things get more complicated, as their perspectives on what they want from life begin to shift.

Primer is not a film for those who prefer science fiction to be an action packed roller coaster ride. From the outset, this is serious stuff. The dialogue is suffused with unexplained jargon and technical terminology and there are few visual cues to help you understand what's going on. However, therein lies the film's inherent charm. It is not dumbed down and only asks you to pay attention and concentrate and be rewarded with a grown-up piece of independent American cinema that eschews Darko style faux-intellectual pontification and manages to deal with fantastic things without compromising its tone, or patronising the viewer.

Made on a budget of $7000, this is an incredible achievement, belittling the efforts of movies made for a thousand times more, especially in a genre where independent productions usually mean excruciating special effects and acting that wouldn't be tolerated at Troma. Carruth and Sullivan are understated, giving some brilliantly observed character acting - writer/director Carruth is a math graduate and has worked in several engineering firms before turning to film. Both are superbly plausible as a couple of upwardly-mobile geeks, discovering something incredible, and, as first time actors, step up to the challenge of what will become extreme, emotionally demanding roles with aplomb.

Shot almost entirely on location with natural light hasn't stopped the film looking good and, combined with some interesting, but not overblown, cinematography, manages to make occasional problems of focus and graininess add to the sense of realism. A minor failing is the frequent use of redubbed dialogue during the first half - some very slightly out of sync - but, aside from this, the sound and especially the music is very good.

Many viewers will be reminded of Darren Aronofsky's Pi which examines themes of scientific discovery in a similar framework. However, while that film eventually sank into slightly silly religious numerology, Primer never takes off its lab coat, staying serious to the end.

Enjoyment isn't easy - Carruth asks a lot of the viewer - but those who take the time will feel enlightened, or baffled. Either way, they will be desperate to see it again.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2006
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Primer packshot
Two garage engineers, working with super conductors, stumble across a side-effect that opens infinite opportunities for time travel.
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Read more Primer reviews:

The Exile **1/2

Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Jay Butler, John Carruth

Year: 2004

Runtime: 77 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


EIFF 2004

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