A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Shane Carruth's "Primer" opens with four techheads addressing envelopes to possible investors; they seek venture capital for a machine they're building in the garage. They're not entirely sure what the machine does, although it certainly does something. Their dialogue is halfway between shop talk and one of those articles in Wired magazine that you never finish. We don't understand most of what they're saying, and neither, perhaps, do they, but we get the drift. Challenging us to listen closely, to half-understand what they half-understand, is one of the ways the film sucks us in.
They steal a catalytic converter for its platinum, and plunder a refrigerator for its freon. Their budget is so small, they could cash the checks on the bus. Aaron and Abe, agreeing that whatever they've invented, they're the ones who invented it, subtly eliminate the other two from the enterprise. They then regard something that looks like an insulated shipping container with wires and dials and coils stuff. This is odd: It secretes protein. More protein than it has time to secrete. Measuring the protein's rate of growth, they determine that one minute in the garage is equal to 1,347 minutes in the machine.
Is time in the machine different than time outside the machine? Apparently. But that would make it some kind of time machine, wouldn't it? Hard to believe. Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) ponder the machine and look at their results and Aaron concludes it is "the most important thing any living being has ever witnessed." But what is it?
There's a fascination in the way they talk with each other, quickly, softly, excitedly. It's better, actually, that we don't understand everything they say, because that makes us feel more like eavesdroppers and less like the passive audience for predigested dialogue. We can see where they're heading, especially after ... well, I don't want to give away some of the plot, and I may not understand the rest, but it would appear that they can travel through time. They learn this by seeing their doubles before they have even tried time travel -- proof that later they will travel back to now. Meanwhile (is that the word?) a larger model of the machine is/was assembled in a storage locker by them/their doubles.