Film review: Primer (2004)


Genre: Sci-fi/drama

Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

Director/writer: Shane Carruth

Made with the meager sum of 7 thousand dollars, Primer is an impressive accomplishment of frugal directing, unique storytelling and precise film making.

Driven by intellectual-sounding dialogue and a purposefully confusing story line,  Primer is a film that invites inquisition, attention and conversation. Its intricacy is not meant to be understood but appreciated, a cinematic device that will push the casual thrill-seeking moviegoer away, and pull in the curious and the analytically driven. Its austere quality, both forced and conscious, adds realism, making us silent participants in the conversations of two friends whose invention rendered very surprising results.

Every time the film begins to become clearer and approachable, it consciously retreats back into itself, revealing its secrets only slightly, keeping our attention by demanding focus, flirting with resolution but never quite reaching it. The shots are close and personal but the characters remain far enough so that they are only partially understood and their motivations only generally relatable.

Being such a difficult art piece to fully appreciate, Primer will remain divisive and elusive to the average viewer. As a result, it will never be as loved as other finely crafted films. Primer is likely to remain at odds with the norm not by advancing it and being ahead of the curve, but by choosing to be reclusive and fraught with impossible riddles. Primer is destined to be one of those mysterious pieces that are revisited by future enthusiasts to craft films that borrow some of its ideas while making far more approachable cinema.

Primer is evidence that money in Hollywood does not necessarily buy quality. These are 7 thousand dollars well spent.

Rating: 3/5 (good)

primer 2

4 thoughts on “Film review: Primer (2004)

  1. Such an intriguing review, Niels!! I have to admit I kept seeing by this cover on iTunes and passing by it. But you’ve got me interested now so I’ll give it a shot. WOW, only $7 grand budget? That’s impressive!

    1. The only word of caution is that this film is not for everyone. One of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever had to do, not so much writing it, but rating the film. I hated it, but I loved it all the same.

  2. “Being such a difficult art piece to fully appreciate, Primer will remain divisive and elusive to the average viewer.”

    Yes, exactly. In fact, I didn’t really like Primer when I first saw it. Now I’ve come around and I really appreciate it.

    Great review.

    1. I don’t think I can say I liked Primer either and I will surely not go back to it for a while. Having said that, it is not a film I will be forgetting, and I appreciate the impressive use of resources and the originality of its ideas and style.

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