Directed and written by Shane Carruth
Starring Shane Carruth and David Sullivan
Rating: * * *
P rimer is an unapologetically cerebral movie of ideas. While most "smart movies" these days rely on simple characters to bring across more complicated themes, the computer geeks in Primer are every bit as intelligent and challenging as the movie itself.
The story begins with Abe and Aaron, two clever young computer engineers (played with hyper-realistic energy by David Sullivan and writer-director Shane Carruth) who are leading double lives. By day they work at white-collar desk jobs at a big generic company somewhere in America. By night they hole themselves up in a garage laboratory to tinker with mass and gravity. Convinced they are close to a major scientific breakthrough, the two young turks break with partners and begin to toil in secrecy.
Scavenging bits and bobs from computers, kitchen appliances and car engines, they build a superconducting device with mysterious properties. Objects are placed inside the box and their mass is reduced by gravitational pull. Before long our heroes have slapped together a bigger box and are travelling back in time, making big trades on the stock market with their future knowledge.
But there's a problem. Abe and Aaron soon realize they cannot neatly enter one period and exit the next. When they use the box to travel into the past, their earlier doubles remain stuck in the future. In order to avoid disrupting fate and the natural continuum of time, Abe and Aaron must avoid their doubles - both of whom are becoming adept at time travel and deception.
In an industry that rewards special effects over raw substance, Primer is a revelation. Shot on Super 16-mm film with a $7,000 (U.S.) budget by a 31-year-old, first-time filmmaker, the movie went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. And rightly so, for this work reminds us that filmmaking can be a democratic art, after all. Forget computer animation and bankable stars: All you need to make a great film is a brilliant script, talented players and a modest line of credit.