Primer is an independent film that received acclaim at the Sundance festival, and I often struggle to review indie films… they can be very good, other times they just. don’t. grip me. Primer is one of the the latter.
A film set in contemporary America, Primer follows four entrepreneur scientists (specifically two, Abe and Aaron) who inadvertently invent… a time machine.
Everything is filmed in a very realistic, down to earth fashion; dialogue is extremely underplayed, scenes come and go quietly and unassumingly. This is mostly my biggest problem with Primer… The first act is incredibly boring.
I know some people will enjoy the realistic characterisation and dialogue that doesn’t feel scripted, but I need exposition and details that I can understand. Our characters are barely introduced, they are four nondescript young scientists who we see spouting endless jargon at each other, jargon that (unless you are a scientist yourself??) will not elude to anything and will leave you out in the cold. Whether intentional or not I got the impression that these young guys just invented a time machine… unintentionally.
Once the machine is constructed, the plot can finally get going with the morality of having invented such a device, and the contemporary framing device makes the premise extremely strong. The second act is surely the strongest due to our steady understanding of how this machine works, and how our two protagonists “work”, I started to see who they were as people. Surely now the film can ramp into some unique, engaging storytelling using time travel within their every day lives?
Hmmmm, not really.
Again, the film’s laborious first act which set up nothing comes back to plague the film’s final climax. Maybe I just ignored some crucial piece of dialogue early on, but honestly I had no idea why or what our characters were doing by the end, and the film just kinda stopped.
But isn’t that a problem with the film? Sure, I personally didn’t get it… but the film’s deliberate obscurity early on just destroys a lot of the potential the premise had.
If you are a scientist, and/or enjoy very minimalist films that give little to no exposition, Primer will probably interest you more than it did me. It is by no means bad despite what I’ve just said, it would probably benefit a second viewing (but that’s not what Cinema Cocoa does! I give you my first impressions) and none of the issues I have are to do with budget, which is normally a hindrance for indie productions but here, they work with what they have very effectively.
Its just the lack of exposition, the lack of characters I can relate to and the lack of a final, unique and clever climax that the indie film really needed, that killed it for me.