9. Primer (2004)
One of the cheapest films on our list but also one of the most complex. Costly a paltry $7,000, Shane Carruth’s directorial debut tells the story of two engineers who discover time travel in their spare time.
The plot structure is notoriously complex, at times being deliberately disorientating and Carruth makes no effort to make it easy for the audience. A mathematics graduate and engineer by trade, Carruth fills the dialogue with technical language and makes no apologies about it. This is time travel the hard way, so strap yourself in and pay attention. This might put you off, but the challenging style of the film is very much a part of the experience. Carruth wants you to be confused. It’s as much a story-telling device as it is technical.
In producing the movie, Carruth kept costs as cheap as possible by acting as the director, writer, producer, editor, composer and co-star. Talk about keeping your hands full, but the decision not to hire extra crew members meant Carruth could put as much of that $7,000 on screen as possible.
Carruth kept costs down further by making use of available lighting, rather than using expensive set lights. Blinking fluorescent lights combined with Carruth’s use of grainy 16mm film stock gives the film a gritty and cold aesthetic which further exemplifies the scientific and mathematical tone.
An experimental plot structure, technical dialogue and an unforgivingly complex time loop, makes Primer a challenging but essential watch.