Too-clever filmmaker Shane Carruth'sfascinating 2004 time-travel thriller Primer was confusing enough, but he goes a step further with this utterly impenetrable freak-out mystery. It looks amazing, and is packed with eerily resonant themes and feelings, but Carruth never tries to make the narrative coherent, challenging us to make sense of the vivid visual and audio textures.
Here's what it seems to be about: Kris (Seimetz) is a young woman who has her life upended when a thief (Martins) gives her a hypnotic drug then tells her to give him everything she owns. When she wakes up, she has to piece her life together from scratch. She's also now strangely drawn to Jeff (Carruth), a guy she sees on the train during her daily commute. And as they begin a tentative romance, they start to feel that something bigger is going on around them. While trying to figure out who is controlling their life, they encounter a sound recordist (Sensenig) who has a pen of piglets that seem to be a clue to what's going on.
Frankly, anyone who watches this film would probably piece together the premise in a different way. Without a clear plot or consistent characters, it's impossible to know what's happening: everything is a mystery. But the film is so precisely put together that we know Carruth is telling his story exactly as he wants to. The sound mix is especially beautiful, while the cinematography captures stunning imagery that keeps us watching even if we're not sure what we're looking at. And the actors are strong enough to convey their emotions, so at least we know how they feel about whatever's happening.
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The film's opening is the pleasureable kind of confusion; we're immersed in scrappy, restless invention. Aaron (Shane Carruth, also the writer and director) and Abe (David Sullivan) are engineers tinkering around in a garage, hoping to come up with the next big invention. Through circumstances I am gladly ill-equipped to explain, they invent a device -- a box -- that can propel them back in time. Not months or years, mind you, but just a few hours or however long you want to spend inside: The effect is not instantaneous transport but rather moving backward three or four hours as the world moves forward.
Continue reading: Primer Review