Primer is the first film by director Shane Carruth. It’s perhaps the most realistic interpretation of what it would be like to experience time travel. The plot is notoriously convoluted, but intentionally so. Carruth wants us to share in the feeling of disorientation his characters experience.
The fact that Carruth spent so much time devising a convoluted but logical plot makes for great rewatch value. It requires much thought and engagement to follow, but rewards the viewer for doing so, which is why for me it was such a compelling story.
I don’t want to spoil the plot much as this is one of the top ten films I would recommend to anyone.
The film centers around the friendship of two engineers trying to get rich inventing things in their garage. When they accidentally discover time travel, their friendship is severely tested. The essence of the film is that they didn’t consider the moral and ethical consequences of their actions and discoveries. They’re too smart for their own safety.
The raw, non-theatrical way the film is shot and structured lends an authenticity to the experience. It never feels particularly low-budget though, despite being made for only $7,000. The fact that director Carruth stars in the film is never distracting and probably makes the film stronger.
Primer is easily the creepiest film I’ve ever seen. It’s so unorthodox and unpredictable that I was never sure what to expect next, or what the fate of the characters would be. There are strange occurrences that are never really explained because the characters themselves never figure it all out.
I won’t say too much more other than this film is a real gem. The first twenty minutes are slow but just stick with it, it gets better. It has one of the best gaps between expectation and reality that I’ve ever seen in a film (an example of a famous gap would be, spoiler alert, that Darth Vader is Luke’s father). The use of foreshadowing and going back to previous events is really quite masterful.