The following article was written for print two years ago. Due to the irregular distribution of the film involved the piece never made it into syndication, and so appears here. The format is a bit atypical due to the constraints of its intended venue, but I’ll let that slide as a review of this particular film on this particular site has been far too long coming.
Oh, and please note the care with which any and all spoilers have been avoided.
From the moment the picture begins to light up the screen, you realize that something is different. You see no beautifully constructed set, no amazing recreation of real life—instead you see a garage. A genuine garage. And with that for a beginning what you see is real life—in fiction.
Primer is something unique, an oil-painting among the framed prints that are Hollywood flicks. It is something that many Americans probably never expected would ever be seen. It is a thriller about engineers, made by an engineer.
Yes, the main characters wear the archetypical ‘geek’ garb of white shirts (collars and sleeves unbuttoned, of course) and haphazard ties. True, they are far from the suave heroes of the Hollywood thriller—but then they aren’t pretending to be suave.
These men are just guys who live their suburban lives like the rest of America. While building cool stuff, that is. Their weekend tinkering has even formed the basis for a small business. And now one of them wants to build one more device...
This movie succeeds as a thriller because of the great care with which it has been crafted. The eerily sedate telephone narration brings up questions from the start. The suspense, however, is not manufactured but instead comes naturally. The viewer is forced to remain alert by the complicated plot’s peculiar—and logical—loops. Not until the theater’s overhead lighting is ready to flicker back on can the mind completely make sense of some elements.
The reasons above are why Primer makes a great thriller. It succeeds as a great film for other reasons.
Writer/producer/director/cinematographer/actor/composer Shane Carruth, the engineer behind this production (literally), has given moviegoers something that cannot be considered merely part of a genre. The interaction between and among characters doesn’t ‘feel Hollywood’ (possibly because the film is Texas made...), it just feels real. Primer was shot entirely on location with commonplace people and was written ‘realistically’ but retains the human warmth—and coldness—that makes life interesting.