Published Dec 01, 2004Though it's by now tedious to report on the low budgets of debut indies, there's no denying the gulf between what $7,000 ought to buy you and what it's bought Shane Carruth's Primer. A student of '70s paranoia film, as well as a refugee from the engineering field, Carruth's taken his passion and his milieu and made something surprisingly accomplished: an industrial horror film that's stylish and to the point in rendering white-collar ambition and the lengths to which it drives us. Carruth stars alongside David Sullivan as a pair of engineers in search of a career-making breakthrough; cannibalising parts from cars and labs, they create a device of indeterminate purpose that could be a vehicle for time travel. Naturally it all goes wrong when they try to use it and scramble to stay out of the way of their doubles. It sounds like typical Twilight Zone fodder but it doesn't play that way at all the writer/director knows how to line up a shot to fill you with dread and he counters with an approach to dialogue that's completely devoid of melodrama. The relentless forward motion of the experiment is made to seem so apparently without emotional content that we both admire and question the Olympian effort it takes to keep it alive. We simultaneously cheer on and fear for the protagonists and it's this contradictory response that makes the movie so gripping.
Though it's ultimately not about anything other than itself, and bogs down occasionally in its constant (if virtuoso) stream of tech-speak, it's a remarkably original approach to an age-old story. Tampering in God's domain was never this suspect or this unsettling, and Primer heralds the arrival of a genre talent in a class by himself. (Th!nk)