Dir. Shane Carruth, US, 2004, 77 mins
Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya
There can be little doubt that Shane Carruth is a gifted new film maker. He conceived, wrote, directed, edited and even scored his debut thriller which has been compared to the ingenious cult classic Memento.
Robert Redford showered Carruth with praise when Primer scooped the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, but Esquire magazine went OTT when they described his work as “The headiest, most singular science fiction movie since Kubrick made 2001.”
Primer is fascinating and absorbing, filmed in semi-documentary, fly-on-the-wall style in the setting of an anonymous industrial park and modern housing estate on the outskirts of an American city.
The focus is on two young engineers, Abe (Sullivan) and Aaron (Carruth), who are members of a small group of scientists who work by day for a large corporation while conducting extracurricular experiments in their own time in a garage.
While tweaking their current project, a device that reduces the apparent mass of any object placed inside it by blocking gravitational pull, they accidentally discover their invention has some highly unexpected capabilities.
Here the Hollywood formula comes into play – morality v money or corporations v Citizen Smith and Curruth, who managed to make Primer for £5000, handles the issues well without lurching into obvious past detours such as shadows on street corners or car chases.
Taking his inspiration more from films such as All The President’s Men he weaves a clever web while never dangerously straying into territory occupied by so many lesser talented directors. He says his film is built around a “turning point”. It is certainly that. His was a car crash, which gave him the time to sit down and watch and study a hatful of classic TNT movies.
Many are reminded of John Carpenter’s brilliant Dark Star, a film made with tin can props and with family and friends lending a hand. Primer actually has a much more sophisticated look than that.
The 32-year-old Carruth, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, spent three years teaching himself the celluloid arts after once training to become an engineer. He made the right decision.
Primer is released on UK Region 2 DVD on 27th February 2006 by Tartan Video. Extras included: director's commentary, cast and crew commentary, trailer, subtitles for the hard of hearing.