out of Five
Running time: 77
OPENS FRI 19TH AUGUST
Primer is the film debut of writer-director-star Shane Carruth. It was a huge hit with both critics and audiences at last year's Edinburgh film festival. However, it's not quite the action-packed time-travel romp that the synopsis suggests and audiences should be prepared for the fact that their brains are going to hurt afterwards.
Carruth and David Sullivan play Aaron and Abe, two young engineers who design a device that can alter gravitational pull and then discover that it will enable them to travel in time. Deciding not to tell their families or their colleagues (Casey Gooden and Anand Upadhyaya), they decide to experiment with the machine.
At first they use it for obvious things like playing the stock market, but things quickly get out of hand and soon their lives are a tangle of multiple timelines, doppelgangers, paradoxes and endlessly repeated events.
Primer is one of those films that demands your close attention throughout.
This is often difficult because the dialogue frequently consists of nothing but impenetrable scientific jargon; even when they discover the time-travel application of their invention, no-one actually spells it out for the audience. Most of the scenes consist of Aaron and Abe talking; Carruth makes frequent, jarring use of crosscutting and the audience is expected to keep up and work out for themselves what is going on.
Surprisingly, this method works really well. In fact, the genius of Primer lies in the fact that the action, such as it is, is all occurring between the scenes that we actually see.
Carruth shot on a shoestring budget and cast his friends and family in the other parts, although it's more or less a two-hander between Carruth and Sullivan. Their performances are extremely good - it's their reactions that keep us interested, even when the plot has long since slipped away from us.
As such, Carruth pulls off some impressive twists and reversals, to the point where your brain might actually start begging you for mercy.
In short, Primer is one of the most original and intriguing film debuts of the last few years and it will be fascinating to see what Carruth does next.