Greetings everyone. The number of mainstream movies I haven’t seen would probably shock you. Friends and acquaintances constantly gasp “What?! You haven’t seen such and such big summer movie that everyone loves and is awesome?” Yeah, s’pose not. But for every big movie I haven’t seen there are lots of little indie films I’ve watched. You can call me an unrepentant hipster if you like, go ahead, but for some reason I find lower budgets, unique ideas, and smaller executions far more compelling than expensive CGI things fighting each other. It’s just the way I am. So in that spirit I’ve decided to start sharing some of the more obscure films you may not of heard of, or missed in the shuffle of huge budget over exposure. These are simply movies that I’ve found compelling in some way that sit comfortably beneath the radar, and perhaps through my recommendation you might find a few new unexpected favorites. So to start I’ll ask: Have you seen Primer?
Primer, starring, written and directed by Shane Carruth, is a really inexpensive movie with a really big idea that is presented in a very small way. The film is about two engineers, that in the course of an unrelated project accidentally develop time travel. What makes this intriguing is that the filmmakers do not tone down the sciencey engineering language talk at all. Hearing them discuss their project, the time travel itself, and the after effects of it all is what it would be like to actually listen to them in real life. Carruth has a degree in mathematics and was once an engineer, so he certainly has the chops to make this all sound credible (And gets special props from me for the math degree). This form of presentation adds a mystery to the film that so many other movies would not dare to establish, as nothing is explained to the audience in simple terms, and the big moments aren’t accompanied with a swell of music and a memorable quote. We are seeing smart men work on a tough problem, and even when they figure out what they have made, the reaction is excited but subdued (A reaction I’ve seen and experienced many times myself when projects get finished and continually honed, therefore feels true to life to me).
As a result, the whole thing feels completely real, completely believable, and just shy of our complete understanding. Even the “time machine” feels believable, as Carruth opted away from the spectacle of gadgety gears and bobs of other designs, and instead went with something far less stylish and far more practical. Some may argue this is just making due with his limited budget, and though that may be true, I actually think it is intentional. This firm grounding in reality is crucial because it makes the entire film is so unsettling, especially once the plot spirals into terrifying madness. With the characters continuously going back in time to “fix” things (At least I think that’s what’s happening), and all the while trying to avoid their many past selves. Yes, trying to decipher the plot through the confusion is certainly a task, and where some may find that frustrating, something about it unnerved me. It actually felt like what might happen if time travel is ever developed, and the stark look at that discovery was actually kinda terrifying.
Can we coin this as techo-horror (Or how bout luddite porn)? A movie about the horror or fear that those wonderful new technologies we all fantasize about may actually destroy us? It may be more and more common as we give more and more of ourselves to technology. And from here you might be tempted to lump this in with David Cronenberg’s The Fly (The technology being teleportation in that case, but also focused more on the body horror), and no, Primer isn’t setting out to be a horror movie, I just found its presentation and theme unsettling. And for that reason I recommend Primer. It’s not perfect (What movie is? Jesus Zach), some of the acting is a little off and many viewers may find it completely frustrating, but to me it’s absolutely fascinating and a great example of what wonders can be made for a mere $7,000.