One interesting element of the sci-fi genre is its ability to tackle interesting, huge questions at very divergent levels of scale. At the larger scale, Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park, Blade Runner, and its sequel Blade Runner 2049 all tell complex and larger scale stories while asking intriguing questions about everything from the ethics of scientific practice to what it is to be human and what sort of society we should have. At the other end, films like Coherence, Ex Machina, and Los Cronocrímenes find ways to explore similarly large questions in small, contained, sometimes claustrophobic spaces. Eric Schultz’ Minor Premise falls firmly in the latter category as a tight, thoughtful film exploring a thrilling sci-fi premise by going inward.
Minor Premise follows neuroscientist Ethan Kochar (an excellent, complex performance by Sathya Sridharan) who has retreated into isolation and become obsessed with completing an experiment intended to isolate the sections of the brain that impact emotion or behavior. His acclaimed scientist father died just before completing work on that same project, and Ethan spends his time obsessed with it (and, it should be said, cutting off relationships and drinking like there’s no tomorrow).
In the middle of this complexity, Ethan does what any fictional film scientist would do once frustrated with a lack of progress—he uses the experiment on himself. Bad plan, as it turns out. Ethan finds his consciousness split into 10 separate fragments, his consciousness switching between them like ever-escalating clockwork. He has to find some way to complete his work and re-integrate the personalities despite continually losing conscious work before the experiment spells certain doom… at least for him.
The film weaves considerable intelligence and well structured tension through its sleek 95 minute runtime. It’s a ‘ticking clock’ film, sure, but they use the constant rotation of personalities to excellent effect, adding both a mysterious element to the film (as Ethan attempts to deduce and map out which personalities are in control, when, and which can be trusted) and a lot of diversity in tone as Ethan slides through very different personalities, all with different priorities.
This allows Sridharan to deliver an exceptional performance as the legion of Ethans, embodying vastly different variants of the same character in ways that end up feeling admirably organic to the character’s chaotic arc. It’s great work. And Paton Ashbrook’s turn as Alli, fellow scientist and Ethan’s ex girlfriend (literally his main contact in the film), is also excellent—as the main linear thread pulling together Ethan’s rotation of divergent experiences, she really pulls together the narrative for the audience while elevating the film’s emotional weight.
Two other elements deserve note. Cinematographer Justin Derry finds novel ways to shoot the film throughout, adding visual variety despite the film taking considerable part inside confined spaces—it’s a challenging feat for any DP. The film also boasts smart editing at the hands of James Codoyannis and Christopher Radcliffe, with strong pacing and a real sense of escalating tension to match the raising stakes.
Altogether, Minor Premise is more in the heady sci-fi vein than it is an emotional work, but in that vein it excels. It’s a well-executed and thoughtful concept that has some truly novel thriller elements and an excellent command of pacing, making it one of the best sci-fi films of the last few years. It’s absolutely worth your time, and you may never look at your own mind the same again.
Minor Premise is available for rent or purchase on VOD. It will be released on physical media on 1/19.