Credit: Utopia
Before We Vanish by Nicholas Yap Film

Minor Premise | Eric Schultz

December 18, 2020

Minor Premise boasts classic sci-fi origins, but is largely a shamble of ill-fitting elements that fails to build to anything cohesive or appealing.

One of the science fiction genre’s most enduring fascinations has been with memory and its plasticine architecture — better endowed in a cinematic context for the formal apparatus at a filmmaker’s disposal, allowing myriad perspectives and entry points into a subject’s psyche to unravel, limited only by one’s visual imagination and facility. Count Minor Premise (conceived early in the year as a teaser short), the debut feature of Eric Schultz, as yet another slab atop this increasingly unstable, though not entirely untenable edifice. The title’s quite a lark, really — from the get-go, we’re squared into a fragmentary language of ellipse and incident that’s redistributed into incoherent snippets, jargon-loaded spurts gathering into something unearthly (“Isn’t that, like, unethical?”, “You know, there are some things you shouldn’t try to control”; all comic trivialities brushing against Unchecked Ambition). More proudly displayed, still, is the film’s debt to the shoestring independent offerings of yesteryear, now widely-known as shorthand for structural complexity (think Coherence and Primer), a wonder crop from which it frequently purloins its look and momentum, with little regard for their focused construction. 

Our locus is Ethan (Sathya Sridharan), an embittered neuroscientist whose desire to surpass his late father’s unparalleled achievements and academic decoration leads him to test a research methodology and thesis — that pockets of someone’s memory serve as neutral spaces for the mapping of emotions, and can be isolated to produce positive responses in them — on himself. Failure is a foregone conclusion as per wayward tinkering of this sort, and his consciousness decomposes into different personalities named for the archetypes they resemble, each taking helm for six minutes per hour. External interests are kept strictly professional or are eschewed entirely; the company Ethan keeps throughout constitutes his ex, Alli (Paton Ashbrook), and co-worker, Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook, settling cozily into life after Bobby Briggs), the former intent on rekindling a dormant relationship and who injects the otherwise stultifying environs with some measure of humanity. In a more productive work, the quandary presented here would lean decisively towards either impish absurdity, mining farce from Ethan’s whiplash-inducing shifts and physical antics, or something altogether crueler, putting at the forefront an emphasis on the stakes of his downward spiral, each piece of interior machinery allowing the ugliness of normally suppressed instincts to emerge. As it stands, his initial hubristic characterization — which hints at pervasive alcoholism, domestic disputes, and an unhappy coming-of-age — evaporates after the main thrust gets its day in the sun, canted off for a series of meandering passages within which are manic paroxysms that bear no consequence or lasting impact. They are occasionally clarified in more personal domain when flashbacks are involved, but are even here deflated by some less than stellar effects montages. It doesn’t help that Sridharan, while possessing a theatrical background which, theoretically, should aid the film’s chamber-y staging, fails at mustering both the cuckoo energy demanded by his role and its more reflective interludes with Alli or at Ethan’s father’s deathbed, and subsequently retreats into sluggish, shell-shocked mugging. 

Minor Premise’s gestures towards impenetrable design, too, end up blunted, as its structuring goes from outwardly rhizomatic — with multiple solutions proposed to the same forward waypoint — to unambiguously linear (final zinger just to leave you thinking!), elaborating on its various enigmas so that no further discourse may arise. This bait-and-switch understandably skirts accusations of needless obfuscation, but ultimately punches down a more refreshing oddity to be reckoned with. Of the many traits that make up a human being’s spiritual and emotional whole, Premise concludes on Alli’s dictum that, “In isolation, these fragments are coarse, even unrecognizable, but when they co-exist in a single consciousness, something emerges […] something called self.” It’s a platitude appropriately set to schmaltzy images of reconnection, nicely tying together the 90 minutes we’ve just slogged through, which amount to a series of ill-fitting elements stitched together that fail to congeal into any interesting gestalt or even appealing jumble. Minor Premise inches at broad targets, but always without anchor.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | December 2020 — Part 2.