Saturday Movie Review – “Primer”

Here’s a little gem that deserves far more attention
than it’s received.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Shane Carruth as Aaron

David Sullivan as Abe

Written by Shane Carruth

Directed by Shane Carruth

Complete information is available from the

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Past movie reviews can be found here.


A pair of engineers (played by a pair of engineers)
stumble onto time
travel technology.

High Point

“I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

Low Point

The ice filter conversation really felt like the
creator injecting one
of his own pet peeves. It’s not out of character, but
I felt the
character was already established, and that moment
just slowed things

The Scores

This is very original. This is time travel,
looking at all
sorts of oddball consequences (such as cell phone
service) while
actually maintaining causality and telling an
interesting story. I
give it 6 out of 6.

The effects were few. When engineers become
filmmakers (see:
Hitchcock) they come into the field with considerable
experience in
doing the impossible on a budget. There were props,
and there was one
point with drifting confetti that with a filtered view
on screen to
facilitate low budget effects, while still giving an
camera angle. In fact, that confetti was the only
non-prop shot I can
think of. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story was compelling, and asked a lot of
big questions.
It was also remarkably well planned, with a lot of
details to track
that hold up on multiple viewings. Maybe my own
geekish tendencies
help boost the score from my perspective, but nobody
can claim there
wasn’t a lot of detail and an unusual level of
continuity in this
movie. I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting was well done, especially
considering the number
of non-actors in the cast. This was probably done by
basing the
characters on the actors, allowing them to just be
themselves. It’s
possible that they’d be terrible at other roles, but
they work very
well in these roles. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is quite strong. The
science and time
travel philosophy kept me interested through the first
part, but the
mystery plotline managed to overtake that by the time
the film was
done. (This is no small feat; if I weren’t prone to
thinking about
these kinds of questions, I wouldn’t have two physics
degrees.) I
give it 5 out of 6.

The production is very impressive. Most
first outings for
independant filmmakers have primarily mundane and
standard directorial
work, while the best first outings include a few
isolated shining
moments of potential. This doesn’t feel like that at
all. This
really felt like each and every shot was planned and
plotted to be
interesting, and then shot that way when the
appropriate funding was
in place. There was some great jump cutting during
mundane activities
(such as preparing a muffin for a snack.) The only
complaint I have
is the amount of grain present when they were at the
fountain. At
first I thought it was the night filming apparatus,
but then I
realized the grains were too large for that. I think
they ended up
filming it at a distance with the regular gear and
then did a digital
zoom in post-production. Whatever the cause, that
piece stands out
due to a lack of quality in the production masters,
which is the only
reason it only gets 5 out of 6 instead of a perfect
category score.

Overall, it’s a highly entertaining movie,
and one well worth
checking out. And by that I mean, see it now. A pair
of regular
people, who I suspect are a lot like the people
reading this review
right now, went out and made a movie that showed in
actual theaters
and got great response from audiences and critics,
even at the
Sundance film festival. Even if it was a studio film,
it would be
worth seeing. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Primer receives 38 out of 42.

Next Week

Next week, we’ll have a review of The Princess

5 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “Primer””

  1. Great movie
    I saw this when it was in theatres, and I loved it. The best part of movies like this one is going out for coffee with your friends afterwards and trying to figure out what actually happened in the movie. I really should get the DVD and watch it again.

  2. Convoluted
    I watched it and then went, "Huh? What happened?" I wasn’t totally lost, but I’d have to watch it again in order to fully understand the plot. And I’m a heavy-duty sci-fi/tech geek–I don’t think normies would have a chance.

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    • Re: Convoluted
      I agree wholeheartedly, but that’s part of what I loved about this movie. I followed along mostly well until that "WTF?!" moment, and then I had to revisit the whole thing. I like that kind of surprise where I just didn’t see that coming and I have to rethink everything.

  3. Classic
    Truly an underrated masterpiece. I’ve watched it 4 times and have gotten something new out of it after each viewing. The subtle jealousy the red-haired guy had of the other’s family, the ego on both of them, the pure brilliance of the characters; all of it came together to form an amazing narrative of a very plausible time travel conundrum.

    You really do have to watch it a few times to get everything, and when you do it feels like a great payoff for your diligence because there’s a lot of complex storylines wrapped in there.

    It’s not for everyone though, I’ll admit. I’ve recommended it to 5 friends and only 2 of them came away with any positive comments. It’s a thinking man’s movie through and through.

  4. Not a great date movie
    This was the first movie I took my wife to after over a year of little/no time off after our first child was born. Big mistake. It isn’t that we didn’t like the movie, its just that its way too heavy for a date movie. I definitely should have picked The Incredibles (which had come out a week or so earlier) instead, but I got wrapped up the geekiness of Primer (me + geekiness = no short term memory).


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