Fantasia Film Festival Screening – Attempting to outshine the legacy left behind by your trailblazing father is a perilous task as neuroscientist Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) learns in the new film MINOR PREMISE. While Ethan’s father Paul (Nikolas Kontomanolis) achieved a means of physically recording memories, albeit in a blurry filter, Ethan wants to achieve control of human consciousness. With his estranged girlfriend Alli (Paton Ashbrook) assisting him and the university department chair Malcom (Dana Ashbrook) nipping at his heels, Ethan impetuously conducts an experiment on himself resulting in the division of his own mind into 10 very distinct personalities, each culled the different segments of his mind. With this heady concept and a taut ensemble of three skilled actors we get a sci-fi thriller that’s as much work as it is rewarding.
With Ethan cycling through 10 different personalities an hour, at 6 minutes each, he confines himself to his home and basement laboratory. The goal is to reunite Ethan’s behaviors into one personality and thus succeed in having ultimate control of the human mind. For the most part each behavior is clearly defined except for one. A mysterious wild card of a personality that keeps popping up and throwing chaos into the otherwise orderly succession. Yes Alli is there to assist, but some behaviors are aggressive. Furthermore, a strange formula scribbled down on a piece of paper pops up that may hold the key to success, or unraveling of the work.
Director and writer Eric Schultz with co-writer Justin Moretto establish the visual language of memories immediately with Ethan sharing footage from his father’s work with a class during a remote lecture. Using this same gaussian blur look and tight focus, Justin Derry lenses the moments in the film the same way, making us question what we are seeing. Is this a memory? An unreliable narrator? This trick keeps us guessing.
With such a high concept it is crucial that the actors be up to the task. Thankfully Sridharan, who is in nearly every frame of the film rises to the occasion admirably. With subtle changes in body language, speech, and tone we have a pretty clear idea of “who” he is at any given time. Ashbrook does a fine job despite being relegated to reacting to Sridharan’s performance.
If I had any notes it would be these; While engrossing, I feel that there was a lack of emotional resonance. There were some missed opportunities in connecting us with Ethan, the loss of his father, his drive to succeed, and his relationship with his ex aside from a sort of self-destructive selfishness. This leaves us mentally engaged in the story but otherwise just observers rather than investors.
Minor Premise is a solid thriller if not an entirely successful one on account of its emotional vacuity. It’s a Nolanesque dive into the fog of memory and the deception therein that challenges and entertains. I am eager to see where Eric Schultz, Justin Moretto head after this perplexing yarn. They know how to convince the audience to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride and, right there, is a talent that few filmmakers have.