dir. Carruth
Opens Fri Oct 29
Fox Tower

Assured, deliberate cinematic incomprehensibility is a rare bird these days. Even ostensibly indie flicks show signs of having been test marketed, smoothed out, and pre-digested to the lowest common denominator for easy consumption by the masses. In welcome contrast, Primer--the $7,000 debut from director/ writer/editor/composer/actor/egghead Shane Carruth--may very well be one of the best American movies of the year... and I'll be damned if I understood more than 40 percent of it.

Set within a buzzing, florescent-lit labyrinth of garage labs and self-storage complexes, the film follows two aspiring hackers as they inadvertently invent an ominously humming box that seems to combine the most worrisome aspects of both time and Xerox machines. Things progress from there, and back again. (That's vague, I know, but to reveal more would sour the script's surprises--of which there are more than a few--and Carruth's flummoxing combination of dense torrents of geek-speak and leap-frogging plot threads actively defies standard narrative coherence.) Primer encourages and supports multiple viewings and explanations. While a second viewing may explain more about the film than the first time through, hopefully it won't explain everything.

Comparisons have been made to both Pi's trippy visuals and Memento's rewinding plot, and while such surface comparisons are certainly apt, Carruth's talents for invoking confusion without frustration and investing found locations with a slightly "off" feeling are entirely his own. (This flickering, alien vibe may prove to be the most off-putting element to some viewers--at times, the film feels less like it was photographed and more like it was grown in a petri dish somewhere.) For watchers willing to sit back and be taken, it's a helluva thing--even if it isn't totally apparent what that thing is, exactly.