Low Budget, Tall Ideas, Big Time

From Raspberry World – Volume 2, Issue 4 (December 2007/January 2008)

You don’t need a mountain of moola to make a fine feature film. Two excellent recent examples are 2004’s Primer and the somewhat earlier Donnie Darko, both using time travel as a major theme or plot device. Neither film has heavy special effects as it is the characters and their story line in each that draws the viewer in for multiple viewings. Nowadays tweaking of the ephemeral gray matter may not be for everyone, but here it is a captivating shared experience that provokes discussion with friends as well as those warranted multiple viewings.

The film Donnie Darko may have been the victim of a terrorist conspiracy. It came out in the fall of 2001, when this country was concerned with other things. It was not heavily promoted (that requires more financial funding) and its dark humor and provocative ending are definitely not mainstream. But since then it has become a bonafide cult classic. Check out the black T-shirts being worn at a concert sometime; more likely than not you’ll see some Donnie Darko shirts. The movie has a website, excellent soundtrack, and an unbelievably bizarre collectible action figure. In addition to all that, the Director’s Cut DVD is a hoot!

The young star is Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhall. His acting would steal the show, if not for the seven-foot tall enigmatic Frank the Bunny, which only Donnie can see. He is in no way the same pookah as Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey, but there are darkly humorous similarities. Frank the Bunny wakes Donnie up in his bedroom and tells him that the world will end in twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes, and twelve seconds. Frank then asks Donnie if he thinks time-travel is possible and offers to save him if he will follow him. Intriguing, isn’t it?

First time writer/director Richard Kelley wrote a story that was able to bring in Noah Wyle, Mary McDonnell, Katherine Ross, and Patrick Swayze, as well as Drew Barrymore, who also financially funded this wild ride in a rural suburbia looking much like Griffith Park. The story brought the actors in, not the money, and what a story it is. Will the world end? Is Frank the Bunny devil or angel? Is Donnie a messiah figure? There is much to laugh at, ponder, and re-visit in this film.

Et tu the intriguing film and Sundance Film Festival winner Primer. It is first time filmmaker Shane Curette’s $7,000.00 masterpiece. It is a time-travel film, yet does not even mention time-travel. It is another film which multi-pricks one’s thinking. It is a morally ambiguous film provoking discussion, interpretation and different perspectives from different viewers at different times. And though low budget, it does not look cheap. It is not gilded with false flash yet it is richly apportioned with thick layers of conflict, plot, and suspense.

Two entrepreneurial engineers develop something on their own time – they just don’t know what it is! The viewer is not sure either; that is a major captivation. What is it? What will they do with it? Will they help others? Help themselves? Destroy themselves? The philosophical paradoxes provoke a preponderance of pondering! Talking too much about a film like this will lessen the surprises to the first time viewer. It is not an action flick, but the layers of intrigue draw one back to review and revisit. Primer is as worthy of multiple viewings and discussion as the aforementioned Donnie Darko. Both make worthwhile viewing parties. Each viewer will see something another did not see, and if so, quite likely with extremely divergent interpretation.


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