Shane Carruth as Aaron
David Sullivan as Abe
Casey Gooden as Robert
Anand Upadhyaya as Phillip
Carrie Crawford as Kara
Jay Butler as Metalshop Worker
Ashley Warren as Hostess
Samantha Thomson as Rachel Granger
Chip Carruth as Thomas Granger
Jack Pyland as Aaron’s Co-worker
Keith Bradshaw as Clean Room Technician
Brandon Blagg as Will
Jon Cook as Will’s Cousin
John Carruth as Man On Couch #1
Juan Tapia as Man On Couch #2
Commentary from writer/director Shane Carruth
Commentary from writer/director and cast/crew
Stereo Surround Sound
Running Time: 77 Minutes
The following is the official description of the DVD:
“Two young engineers, Abe (Shane Carruth) and Aaron (David Sullivan), work by day for a large corporation while conducting extracurricular experiments on their own time in a garage. While tweaking their project, they accidentally discover that their invention has some highly unexpected capabilities the ability to travel through time. Convinced that the device could put their side company on the map, both men use themselves as guinea pigs to test the machine’s capabilities. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face; dealing with the consequences is the next.”
Primer is rated PG-13 for brief language.
Primer is interesting for a number of reasons. First off, it’s the first film from the writer and director Shane Carruth (who I’m proud to say is a fellow Texan). He made it in his spare time with family and friends and edited it on his home computer. A movie doesn’t get more independent than this. Primer went on to win prizes at the Sundance Film Fesitval and gain critical acclaim.
Primer is also interesting because it’s an intriguing science fiction tale. I think this is the most reality based time travel film that I’ve ever seen. Abe and Aaron, the inventors, literally build the machine in their garage. They manage to throw in enough engineering and technical jargon to make it all seem plausible. It comes across like the early days of Bill Gates or other young inventors working out of their garages. After this setup, the film ventures into a psychological drama of what real life, intelligent human beings would do with access to time travel. And like most mad scientists, their initial good intentions and enterprising spirit get them into trouble.
I was completely enthralled with this movie right up until that last 15 minutes or so where it really lost me. I have a vague idea of what happened, but it was by no means clear. This will appeal to some people and turn off others. I can’t get into the details here without ruining the movie, but it’s something you’ll want to consider.
Usually when a writer / director stars in their own film it’s a risky undertaking, but Shane Carruth handled it well. He seemed like a perfectly natural technical geek while at the same time being able to believably portray a man descending into madness. David Sullivan is also good while doing double duty as a cameraman. He, too, is a good engineer character as well as a friend to Abe. Whether spouting physics terms, debating time travel paradoxes, or expressing emotional dialogue, they did a good job.
Being a low budget independent film, you can easily forgive lapses in picture or sound quality. However, the audio on the movie is pretty bad. The dialogue frequently doesn’t match up with the lip movements on the screen. (In the commentary Carruth mentions they had to do a lot of dubbing.) But again, this is a minor issue.
If you like science fiction or you’re into independent filmmaking, then Primer is a film you’ll definitely want to check out. It’s possible that it could even hit cult favorite status. But the final confusing moments of the film were enough to make me bump Primer down from a high rating to a moderate one.
There are two commentaries on this DVD, one by director / writer / star Shane Carruth and another with his cast and crew. Both commentaries focus much more on the technical aspects of the movie and the filmmaking process than the plot or story. I was hoping Carruth would give some insight into what the final moments were about, but there was little of that discussion here. But if you’re into independent filmmaking, this will be a very valuable commentary for you.
The Bottom Line:
Primer is a unique independent science fiction film that is intelligent and intriguing. It’s well worth checking out if you’re into time travel films or independent filmmaking.