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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14.14%
Average: 17.17%
Pretty Bad: 20.2%
Total Crap: 7.07%

6 reviews, 63 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"For Cults Who Do Not Need, Nor Have, Any Answers."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: When you are working with very little money and want to make an impression on the indie circuit, you film a screenplay full of brainy ideas, dip it in a jar of sci-fi and let the audience think for themselves. When you have no money for special effects you force yourself to avoid the easy pleasings of your average moviegoer. Soon your film becomes a cult hit, appreciated more by the small handfuls because they can feel superior to the mass of non-geeks who just don’t get it. If they did there wouldn’t be anything to latch onto and if that’s the case it must not be worth anything cause everyone understands it. Such is the unfortunate case of the cult medium. Critics want to tell people about small films they may have otherwise missed. Cults want things just for themselves. Primer is for the cults.

Many will likely compare Primer to Darren Aronofsky’s debut, Pi, instead of staring down where its obvious influence resides back to Tarkofsky’s Solaris. Four engineers gather together after their 50+ hour work weeks to come up with their own “it”. You remember the “it”, don’t you? Neither do I. But they all want to create the next big thing, so they talk about copper cables and how they can save money on stealing parts from refrigerators to create a wire-filled box in the garage. None of them knows what it does and they sure as hell aren’t letting us in on it.

The first 40 minutes resembles Robert Altman conducting a science class on speed dial. Technical jargon could all be made up as far as the audience is concerned, but amping the techspeak up to a level that would have Stephen Hawking skip a wheel, maybe you should begin your actual story a little earlier. When the box’s purpose reveals itself, the brainy sci-fi angle we’ve all been anticipating begins to take shape. Since the original Solaris took 45 minutes to finally launch into outer space, perhaps our patience will be best rewarded.

Turns out they’ve discovered their own key to time travel. By building a bigger and better mousetrap, if they camp out for a specified amount of time in the storage room with the box, they will wake up so many hours prior to their nap and be able to relive that time. This proves mighty beneficial to finding the right stock to play or finally removing the rhetorical nature of the “what would you do…” question. One problem – there are now doubles of themselves running around who must stay on the same track to keep the continuum of their plan.

It’s here where Primer truly betrays its potential for greatness by sacrificing riveting storytelling for unbelievable obtuseness. Paranoia and mistrust never materializes until a final scene. Two of the friends are completely forgotten about. The concept of the outright duality of the friends’ paths is all but ignored. And the newfound miracle of improving their wealth and changing history is an afterthought that audiences shouldn’t be expected to fill in for themselves. It’s not intellectual. It’s just poor storytelling.

Primer has its treatment in the right place if not it’s complete screenplay. At only 78 minutes it feels as long as Solaris and someday I expect Hollywood to get a hold of it and fashion it for a broader spectrum. The ideas may seem like afterthoughts once someone with a hankering for suspense and fast paces gets a hold of it, but films like Minority Report and Donnie Darko have proven that you can have it both ways and not leave any movie fan out in the cold. Primer goes its own way and only a few people are likely to respond favorably to it.

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originally posted: 01/18/04 15:25:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/25/14 Leo Brim There are answers, you just need to dig deep 5 stars
12/28/13 Marty Never felt dumber in a movie but respect its originality 3 stars
8/09/13 Langano Wow, this movie really sucks. 1 stars
6/17/13 Mark M Good premise but let down by boring execution with unlikable characters. 2 stars
1/23/13 Mike Best (real) time travel movie ever. You'll watch it twice just to figure it out. 5 stars
5/20/11 Mr. Laag Very good, except that It demands at least a second view to fully understand it 4 stars
4/03/11 Vashek Vylet Good idea, but result is sloppy and dull 1 stars
1/19/11 sammyg mind blowing what an amazing film plus when did not understanding afilm mean its bad ? 5 stars
8/22/10 Peepers Sparing, austere, compelling tragedy. Worth repeated viewings. Stellar achievement. 5 stars
8/02/10 mendota "Parts from Wal-Mart," seriously? Mr. McKay was clearly in over his head with Primer. 5 stars
12/07/09 matt completely impenetrable, like wading through a labyrith of molasses in the dark 2 stars
4/07/09 Baloney Better than Timecrimes 5 stars
1/04/08 The Dude What was that all about. I don't really know, but I liked it!! 5 stars
6/05/07 consultation diet pills prescription without diets pill 3 stars
1/24/07 K. Sear The best time travel movie ever. It makes absolutely no concessions to the viewer. 5 stars
11/15/06 William Goss Ow. But a good ow. 4 stars
10/14/06 Oscar Sharp Fascinating movie, especially from a post-heideggerian perspective 4 stars
9/19/06 Mark Keogh Brilliant. A thinking persons film at long last. A movie that bears dozens of viewings 5 stars
9/13/06 Bitchflaps A masterpiece of shoestring budget film-making. Mesmerising! 5 stars
6/05/06 Dean Started off well, but I'd lost the plot by the end 3 stars
5/14/06 jeromebosch garbage 1 stars
12/19/05 patt Just Great 5 stars
11/17/05 Steven Haunschild Brilliant achievement. If you don't have praise for Primer, you don't understand it. 5 stars
10/08/05 justin pynchon+PKD on film; forces you to pay attention; mulholland dr was simple compared to this 5 stars
9/19/05 SY Very good for the director's first feature. Don't be put off if you don't understand. 4 stars
8/26/05 D Buckley This movie is not very good. 3 stars
8/19/05 Terri Sullivan reminded me of Nightingale in a Music Box 5 stars
8/19/05 ALDO hey, it's brilliant, because you don't get it, right? Wrong, but better than Garden State 3 stars
8/13/05 Lily What the hell happened? Attractive lead though. 2 stars
6/26/05 Indrid Cold Brilliant, fascinating, baffling. I didn't know they still made scifi like that. 5 stars
6/16/05 K. E. all over the place 2 stars
5/23/05 y2mckay Pretentious wankfest full of laughable technobabble and sloppy storytelling 2 stars
5/22/05 Cham Looked interesting, but it's utterly pointless, boring, and without any social value. 1 stars
10/31/04 jean-carotte Primer might be the most pretentious and stupid movie ever made. 1 stars
10/06/04 RW I need to see the last 5 minutes again (is this a marketing device to sell more tickets?) 4 stars
9/25/04 durden i got most of it... errr... some of it....i think i need to see 3 or 4 more times 5 stars
9/20/04 denny very enjoyable; needed subtitles to catch all the dialogue; must be seen again 4 stars
6/14/04 Stob this movie was the best independant movie I have ever seen 5 stars
6/06/04 van bullock wow! This was on the genius level 5 stars
6/02/04 Mellifluy It made think, what the *#@!? and then I walked out. 2 stars
4/13/04 Christian Abbott Is the absolute best time travel film I've ever seen. VERY original & thought-provoking 5 stars
3/29/04 bmo brilliant and whole heartedly original 5 stars
3/29/04 Megan Made NO sense to me, but I understand why it won the award (b/c it was made for so little) 2 stars
2/09/04 PIKE David Sullivan is the next Brad Pitt !! 5 stars
2/06/04 Kris M. I was confused from the start and the characters were not engaging. YUCK. 2 stars
2/06/04 ann I can't believe this won the jury award for Sundance. 1 stars
2/01/04 bill sullivan great. 5 stars
1/30/04 Angela Hehner Wow! Can't wait till it's theatre arrival 5 stars
1/29/04 Josef Wells Great Movie. If you have the brains to follow it, you will love it. 5 stars
1/28/04 Rod Barnes An excellent movie... it makes you pay attention the entire time. 5 stars
1/28/04 Matt Smith Great Movie!!! 5 stars
1/27/04 Nancy Dredcoe A $7000 film competes with multi-million dollar films. Says it all. 5 stars
1/27/04 Jon Casey I have much respect for Mr. Carruth. this is the first fim he's EVER made, with little $$ 5 stars
1/27/04 Bob Maplethorpe Absolutely brilliant! 5 stars
1/27/04 Billy Chowder I can't wait to see this Directors' next movie. Amazing 5 stars
1/27/04 Trevor Can't believe this won best film at Sundance 1 stars
1/26/04 John Beakley I thought the movie was very well done and the story line hid the ending well 5 stars
1/26/04 Joe Horn It won Sundance BITCH! 5 stars
1/24/04 David Joyner An excellent story ... don't be misled by the reviewer's narrow minded idea of a good story 5 stars
1/23/04 Neal Dutton Loved it -- from a non geeks perspective -- acting and actors very natural 5 stars
1/22/04 brent kinder I thought it worked, considering what Shane was working with. 4 stars
1/22/04 John Peters Truly unique... refreshing and thought provoking. 5 stars
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  08-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005



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