While working on a project to develop computer diagnostic equipment, best friends and coworkers Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) find they have inadvertently come up with a device that sends objects back and forth in time. After building a larger version of this "box" they begin to move back and forward themselves, exploring the logic of their discovery as well as picking up stock exchange information from the future. But the "box" has its dangers and side effects, and soon there are signs that others may have discovered the secret.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Shane Carruth's Primer, shot for $7000 partly in the filmmaker's garage, is a science fiction movie like no other, pushing its experimental tendencies as far as they can go without betraying the genre. Even as the convoluted plot threatens to collapse into nonsense, Carruth maintains a straight-faced, matter-of-fact tone: his two "heroes" are nondescript young engineers who hang out in each other's kitchens and converse most of the time in obscure technical jargon.
Yet despite this superficial realism, the use of blown-up 16mm film stock gives Primer a fragile, homemade look, while the nervy camera movements, hectic pace and eerie use of ambient sound suggest a B-grade thriller. Making a virtue of his lack of means, Carruth omits as much of the story as he shows, using a possibly unreliable voiceover to hold the fragments in place.
Like David Cronenberg, Carruth is able to convey the uncanny allure of anonymous suburban locations: vacant lots, freeways, motel rooms, or white-collar workplaces where men in shirtsleeves brood over lab reports all day long. It's as if Abe and Aaron were losing track of not only the consequences of their actions but their place in the physical world - as literally happens when they travel into the future, then lock themselves away for fear of the paradoxes they might generate.
Though the fascination of Primer is closely linked to its ambiguities, the running intimations of mental and physical collapse carry an unequivocal warning about the tunnel vision of men in general and science geeks in particular. While Abe and Aaron focus to the point of obsession on technical problems involving their machine, their deeper personal issues are largely repressed, until it's too late.
In a sense, the film plays the same trick on its viewers. Even as we struggle to figure out the specifics of the time travel scenario, it's hinted that more important action may be occurring elsewhere: late into the night, Abe and Aaron sit at the kitchen table poring over their research, while in the background Abe's wife Carrie (Carrie Crawford) goes about the real business of the house.
Email this article
CAST: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Jay Butler, John Carruth
PRODUCER: Shane Carruth
DIRECTOR: Shane Carruth
SCRIPT: Shane Carruth
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shane Carruth, Anand Upadhyaya
EDITOR: Shane Carruth
MUSIC: Shane Carruth
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Shane Carruth
RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: InFocus Distribution
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 25, 2005