Gimme Something to Watch: Primer


I love nerd shit so much that I can’t help but write nerd posts about nerd shit so it is quite convenient that this glorious site boasts a category of “Nerd Shit” (Joe, if I ever abuse this power please let me know and I’ll go back to reviewing shit music). Today I want to sell you on Primer, a fantastic sci-film film that was made on a shoestring budget of around $8,000* and released in 2004.

*I want to get this out of the way very quickly:  there is a SMALL amount of controversy surrounding the film’s budget. For example, the director had a friend who worked for a metal fabrication company who made some props for free for use in the film. It’s connections like these that may skew the “official budget” of the film. I’m pretty sure the director had no ill intentions here.

In this day and age, any John Q. Driveway can bedroom-produce an album and sell it to the masses. Occasionally, one of these bands will come out of nowhere with a brilliant record and make a HUGE impact on the metal scene (for instance Cloudkicker). On the flip-side, well established bands who may possess a seemingly limitless amount of money can produce absolute turds (COUGH, Metallica, COUGH). Sometimes that tiny budget makes an artist hungry to create something amazing, as perfectly exemplified in the indie Sci-fi film “Primer”.


Primer is the most air-tight time travel film ever created. I’m not spoiling anything with that description. You can easily discover about what this film is by reading any review of it. The tagline of the film is “What happens if it actually works” and the back of the DVD case will tell you about some engineers who stumble upon an invention with dire consequences or something. Non-spoiler alert: they inadvertently create a time machine!!!

To get a quick taste of how much of a mindflush this film actually is, view this image for a very quick moment and then immediately close it. It is the Primer timeline explained.

I think I can guess your biggest concern already: that an engaging time-travel film is not possible because of the limited budget for special effects. And here I’ll counter that with one statement: there is ONE special effect utilized in the entire film and the rest is done 100% successfully with available talent, i.e. the man behind the camera and the actors contained within the lens. Early on in the film one of the characters asks another, “what would you do if you could re-live a day?” The response had something to do with punching his boss. Sure, that is an easy start (considering at that point, they weren’t aware of the time travel device) but the plot goes deeper. DEEPER. Until you see this film, you have no idea how engaging the time travel device eventually becomes. Primer doesn’t require a gigantic budget to accomplish grandiose goals. Just like a single metal musician can create a terrific album of music without the benefit of having a gigantic budget, “Primer” succeeds because of the creative and intellect of its creator: Shane Carruth.

I has seen the film three times (this was years ago… to date I’ve seen it 20+ times) when I watched it with my friend Garry one Saturday afternoon. When it ended, we immediately watched it again. This is that kind of film (it also helps that it’s only 80 minutes long minus the credits). We NEEDED to know exactly what happened. We NEEDED to piece together the different timelines. But here’s the catch, not knowing the exact timeline(s) of events didn’t prevent either one of us from enjoying Primer. You know the movies about which I speak, the ones that don’t require 100% understanding to enjoy:  The Forbidden Zone or, more recently Beyond the Black Rainbow. We can intrinsically enjoy these films without knowing exactly what is going on. Primer, like those films, is still entertaining and engaging without requiring an exact knowledge of everything that happens.

Look at this freaking trailer! Would you ever guess this to be a low-budget, sci-film? No way!

On the opposite end of the time travel film spectrum is a flick FILLED with logical fallacies: Back to the Future. Don’t get me wrong, that trilogy is far from bad, but they don’t REALLY tackle the intricacies of multiple selves existing in one reality. Primer is the rare time travel film that considers what happens to the other selves: so you travel a week in the past, what is the other self still doing in his/her timeline of a week ahead of you? What impact do you have on him, what impact does he have on you? If time travel was a thing, these concepts would truly matter. Let’s also consider this… what would you actually DO if you possessed this ability. These are the situations that are handled deftly in “Primer”. You will never, at any point during this film scream at your television, “THAT’S NOT PLAUSIBLE!!!”

So lets wrap things up, “Primer” was created on a budget of which many metal band would be envious.  And I’m not giving this film a pass because of its small budget, as every aspect of the film is SO professionally done (this is Shane Carruth’s FIRST movie? That’s it, I’m never making a film). The acting, production, directing, and writing are better than most contemporary Hollywood types could produce. The plot is more engaging than… well, this might be the most complicated time travel film ever filmed! Flaws? I can’t think of one. Okay it’s a stretch but the characters do talk over each other in the beginning, but they are engineers by profession and are probably acting as we all would in these circumstances. As it stands, Primer is in my top 5 films of all time. You all already know about “Ravenous” and someday you might know all five.

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