Minor Premise [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“I’m talking about a machine calibrated to the individual… perhaps changing yourself, for the better…”

This film, directed by Eric Schutz, follows neuroscientist Ethan Kochar (played by Sathya Sridharan) who is attempting to complete his late father’s legacy, advancing his R10 technology which can map legible memories. When we are first introduced to Ethan, his experiments are hazy at best and it appears he is somewhat of a chaotic recluse, holed up in his house obsessed with his experiments. It is clear that the experiments are having a massive toll on his body as he experiences multiple blackouts and internal bleeding. He is determined that something is missing and he will find the answer.

Ethan starts to spiral as the experiments unfold. One day he receives a previously unseen notebook (which appears to have belonged to his father) and finds an equation which could be the missing link. He hopes that the technology will be able to booster cognitive functions. However, the equation causes his blackouts to become more frequent, and soon he realises that his consciousness has been fractured into separate emotions, each capable of controlling six minutes at a time. With the help of his (ex?) girlfriend and colleague Alli, he struggles to make sense of the situation as it becomes more and more dangerous and time is running out!

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a new concept that I’ve not seen explored except for in the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’, but it would be like if ‘Inside Out’ had a seedy underbelly(!) Like if Happy decided, unlike its actual end where Happy realises you need all emotions to be a healthy person, that instead it was going to try to MURDERRR all the other emotions… Pretty dark. Ethan becomes more and more erratic as the film goes on and I thought he acted these conflicting emotions really well. There’s one bit in the movie where Ethan is laughing and it’s repeated later. Someone mentioned that there was a spooky shadow to look out for in that scene, but for me repeating this scene made me question where in the timeline we as viewers were experiencing the story. I wondered if the beginning was actually the end at one point. Very cleverly done. It’s disorientating when you take a memorable scene like that and intersperse it in multiple points of a movie because you then have nothing to pinpoint where you are, like you have a broken compass.

The fact that most of the film was shot in Ethan’s house really adds to this darkness, both actually and metaphorically. It added to this idea of Ethan being this cooped up recluse.

I loved seeing Sathya in this role. It’s uncommon to have a South Asian person playing a lead in a film, so this was refreshing to see. Sci-Fi definitely needs more diversity so I commend films that celebrate diversity and show real loving family dynamics of People Of Colour and not some shitty caricature. At the Q&A I asked if this was an intentional move, and Eric mentioned that he was just the right guy for the role; that they found him in the casting stage and he perfectly embodied the intellectual and brooding that the character needed, so the script was adapted accordingly.

I enjoyed the soundscape of the film as well. The film seemed to use a lot of nature sounds. Obviously there was whoosing sounds of (what appeared to be) blood in the margins of emotional changes Ethan was experiencing, but there were also prominent sounds of rain and water. It was done in a way that felt as if it was a call-back to an earlier memory. You know how memories are sometimes dreamlike and you’ll remember things in a vague sort of way… The sound of a babbling brook, the rain on a window… and often you only remember a snippet of it. That’s how I interpreted those different sounds. I don’t know if that was intentional, but that’s how I experienced it.

I do have a couple criticisms. I felt like the inclusion of Ethan’s line manager (I forget his name) might have been a bit unnecessary. I get that he was being used as a device to show just how lost Ethan had become, but it’s as if there were zero consequences to Ethan’s actions towards this guy. We see him later and he’s hobbling a bit but it seems like there should have been more dire consequences, particularly to Ethan for having done what he did to him. I dunno, I guess a lot of ‘mad scientist’ science fiction films take a path where the scientist is hauled off to prison and I definitely did not want that for this film, but it was a bit strange to me that there were zero academic consequences. He does hand off the project, but that’s his choice. It’s not imposed on him. Secondly, at one point I thought maybe the periods of emotions could have been defined in a clearer way with text, e.g. SECTION 1, SECTION 2, but I realised that probably wouldn’t work considering how the story later unfolds. It would take away from the confusion about which emotion was coming next. It’s great, though, that Ethan/the director used time as a function to pinpoint the changes because it meant there were anchors that you could get a hold of as the viewer.

So all in all, great concept. Well acted. The science was legit; it was interesting to consider what version of self we are from one emotion to the next. It’s a nice identity thought-exercise. The hazy nature of the film was enjoyable and it represented the nature of memories well. The ending was super chilling and made me question everything. It’s an enjoyable watch! Check it out! I hear there is going to be a sequel called Major Premise (rad title, by the way) so look out for that. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes in future.

FYI Minor Premise is available to watch on Amazon Prime (for USA residents).

Or watch it here. You will need to purchase a film or festival pass.

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