Credit Shane Carruth for attempting to get his foot in the Hollywood door. His independently produced debut film, “Primer” was made on a shoestring budget of $7,000 and he contributed as lead actor, director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, and composer. “Primer” is his calling card movie; it is a shame the film was not made a little better because this movie could have been something more than what it ultimately is.
Is that me playing one-on-one with...myself?
“Primer” will most likely not appeal to the average popcorn munching blockbuster audience. Carruth is very stubborn when it comes to the plot and he refuses to spoon-feed his story. In the beginning, he reels the viewer in with a bunch of gobbledygook about engineering and technology. I’ll confess that half of the time I had no clue what these men were talking about, but I was sure interested and eager to find out. Then when our ears are sharpened and listening intently, the plot begins to unfurl and becomes rather absorbing, only to be squandered in the final reel.
The story revolves around four entrepreneurs who spend their free time afer their normal jobs, tinkering in a garage with an invention they hope will someday make them millionaires. They steal valuable pieces of machinery from cars and refrigerators and buy other parts from Wal-Mart to keep the costs down. Two of them, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), inadvertently construct a time machine that looks like an enormous skunk trap. They hide their new toy in a UHaul storage facility and test it out by taking a nap inside for a few hours everyday, traveling back to the previous morning to take advantage of the stock market.
Although they believe they have worked out every detail (they sit in a hotel room playing board games, secluding themselves from all outside contact to be sure they don’t run into their doubles), things become complicated, particularly with themselves and themselves and themselves. Carruth ambitiously examines all the paradoxes of time travel, a predicament “Back to the Future” barely glanced at. At the same time, Carruth’s script, undoubtedly, will be too confusing for about half its viewers.
Our two protagonists are underdeveloped – in the story and in real life as thespians. This is the movie’s key problem. Running at only 78 minutes, there is too much time spitting out jargon and not enough time nourishing Aaron and Abe. We do not care about them, only about their invention. Furthermore, it is blatantly obvious that these two actors have had no experience in front of the camera before; they are practically emotionless. I have developed more emotional attachment to a roasting turkey than I did watching these two portray their characters.
The rumor going around is that multiple viewings of “Primer” are necessary to fully understand the contents of the film. This might not be a bad idea, considering the interesting ideas it contains, but if you understood what was occurring the first time, chances are you will not discover anything important enough to blow you away on repeat viewings. As I stated in the introduction, "Primer” is not for everyone; those who enjoy the cult status of a little film such as this will most likely be satisfied by it. I am willing to wager that others will be taken aback by the engineer jargon and convoluted plot, and when the credits roll will be wondering what happened to their 78 minutes.
In the final analysis “Primer” really is an ostentatious little film, although Carruth deserves credit – for having produced something even watchable for $7,000, exploring some interesting questions in the process, and having suckered the Sundance Film Institute into awarding him the Alfred P. Sloan prize, which netted him in one fell swoop 3x his alleged budget. If his future efforts are even half as successful, he may well be on his way to a mainstream career as a writer director.