Primer

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“Murky” is the word for this intelligent but too thickly plotted low-budget sci-fi effort by writer/director Shane Carruth, who also served as cinematographer, editor, producer, composer and principal actor.
Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), two suburban white collar workers, have been dicking around in their garage with great intensity with a couple of friends, determined to invent something profitable — though they have no idea what it will be or what it will do. Even when they feel like they’re really on to something (and have aced out their two buddies) they still don’t know what the thing they’ve created does.

That may sound vague, but what Carruth has done is write a script so crammed with tech talk that we’re supposed to be carried along by the two inventors’ enthusiasm, rather than the specifics of what they’re up to. In “hard” sci-fi (where the emphasis is as much on the “sci” as the “fi”) a certain amount of scientific obfuscation is traditional and necessary, since the premise usually involves an extrapolation from known phenomenon to something that doesn’t exist in the real world. However, the mumbo-jumbo quotient here is extraordinarily high.

As it turns out, Aaron and Abe have stumbled on a sort of time machine — not the H. G. Wells kind that hurtles you into a distant and bizarre future, but one that allows the inventors to manipulate the hours of the day. To our profit-minded heroes, this means they can outfox the stock market, the lottery or whatever else yields quick bucks. But things start to go wrong since — as any reader of the genre knows — time travel has a tendency to create paradoxes that can bite you on the ass.

Furthermore, one of the inventors is manipulating the process with ulterior motives, a fact that is slowly revealed with the same opacity as everything else in this exceedingly dense little film. You should be able to follow the gist, though I wouldn’t guarantee it, and I seriously doubt if anyone could give a detailed summary of what happens after only one viewing. However, Carruth deserves some credit for making this occasionally interesting puzzle with a hobbling budget of $7,000, even if it’s unnecessarily obscure and too clever by half.

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak). Call 248-262-2111.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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