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Review: ‘Minor Premise’ is a major mind maze

Sathya Sridharan with his brain-altering device in the thriller "Minor Premise."
Not a hair dryer — it works inside your head: In the new sci-fi thriller “Minor Premise,” Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) needs to know if his brain-altering device functions properly. Any volunteers?
(Utopia Distribution)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

A brilliant, sleep-deprived neuroscientist experiments on his own brain. What could possibly go wrong?

“Minor Premise” is a microbudget indie puzzler in the vein of “Primer,” “Pi” and “Memento.” That’s some heady company, and there are moments in the film that deserve to be mentioned in that rarefied air, quality-wise, but the comparison is really that it’s brainy, fragmented and narrowly focused. And enjoyable.

Obsessed Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) is building on his late father’s work on manipulating certain brain functions. This starts with visualizing and selectively removing memories, then evolves to isolating aspects of personality and rewiring the brain to change them. If that’s both broad and vague, roll with it — as MacGuffins go, it’s pretty cool.

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He’s experiencing blackouts (hmm, wonder if that might be related to his work) and pressing on in his house’s basement lab to build the latest version of his device. It looks like a salon hair dryer but works inside your head. Unable to crack the crucial part of the code to make it work, Ethan mysteriously receives one of his father’s notebooks that may unlock the secret. Having learned nothing from the Seth Brundles of the cinematic world, he sticks his own head in the machine.

There are unintended outcomes. The film creates a personal puzzle akin to those other clever, low-budget movies mentioned above, but with more urgency. The consequences of failing to solve it would be dire.

Sridharan’s performance takes some warming up to but eventually he gets rolling. Whereas Ethan starts out worrisomely flat as a character, his predicament eventually requires significant versatility from the actor. It turns out to be quite a demanding role, and Sridharan’s equal to the task.

Colead Paton Ashbrook also delivers a strong performance as Ethan’s colleague and former paramour, Alli. Her character is every bit as intellectually hungry, strong and as emotionally committed to Ethan as is necessary to power through nightmarish situations to help fix the problem.

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Expanding on his not-entirely-related teaser short, “Premise,” director and co-writer Eric Schultz makes a promising feature debut with “Minor Premise.” It’s smart and engaging once it gets going and presents a tense, fun labyrinth for viewers to navigate. One just wishes the cheese at the end were more rewarding.

'Minor Premise'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 4 in limited release where theaters are open; also available via virtual cinemas, including Laemmle Theatres, digital and VOD


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