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For reasons I don’t want to go into yet (but which will, hopefully, become obvious over the course of the next couple of years) I’m increasingly fascinated by micro-budget film-making. A few weeks back I wrote about JAMES PLUMB’S NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION – a strong, good-looking feature produced with a). very little money but, more importantly, b). a huge amount of talent and commitment.

SHANE CARRUTH’S PRIMER (2004) is another such film. Clocking in at a lean 77 minutes, it crams more inventiveness and originality into its short running time than many big budget blockbusters manage in a few hours. As always, here’s a synopsis and a trailer. Click the link below for my brief thoughts.

Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention.

First off, if you’re expecting a logical, cohesive, fully-resolved, easy to understand story, then PRIMER’s probably not for you. However, if you want to watch a challenging film that’ll make you think while you’re watching it and that’ll stick in your head and keep you asking questions long after it’s finished, then give it a spin.

It’s giving little away to say that the new invention referred to in the synopsis is a time machine. Or, perhaps more accurately, a machine which somehow affects time: 1 minute outside the machine is equal to 1347 minutes in it. Don’t worry too much about the practicalities and measurements – they’re not important. All we need to know is that the machine allows our two leads, Aaron and Abe, to experiment with time travel. They know this too, because they see other versions of themselves even before their experiments have properly begun. And as is the way with time travel in movies, the more they experiment, the more convoluted the mess they find themselves in becomes.

But PRIMER is not like other time travel movies you’ve seen. It’s much more than that and, in some ways, far less. What I mean by that is that watching the movie is as disorientating for us as it is for Aaron and Abe. Lines are constantly being crossed and blurred. What we thought we saw a few scenes ago might not have happened yet, or maybe has already happened ten times or more. Writer/director/composer/editor/star Carruth leads us in numerous different directions, constantly unravelling situations, until we’re not sure of anything. And it works beautifully.


As always, I’ll not say anything more, I’ll just recommend you watch the film. It’s one of those movies I think you appreciate more in retrospect – the mumbled dialogue, snatched conversations, incidents and accidents combining to excellent effect. I loved it, though I’m not sure it’ll be to everyone’s tastes. I have a favourite quote which seems to sum the paradoxes of PRIMER up brilliantly, when one of the protagonists complains “I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon”.

PRIMER is available on VOD in the US. In the UK you can now also stream it via Amazon. I’d be very interested to hear what you think…

Thanks for reading.

Over the years I’ve recommended many films, books, and podcasts. You can find a full list of them here.

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