In many ways, sci-fi thriller Minor Premise feels like a throwback to early Christopher Nolan. Brainy and talky, it relies more on the thrill of discovery than the conventions of a modern-day thriller to tell its story. The movie, the feature directorial debut of Eric Shultz, centers on Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan), a neuroscientist whose father, Paul (Nikolas Kontomanolis), recently died. Paul created a machine to study memory, emotion and consciousness and his son has continued that work. Ethan believes if he can just figure out the right equation, he’ll be able use the machine to isolate sections of the brain and control human consciousness – and like any arrogant movie scientist, he’s unconcerned about the ethical implications.
Following an event honoring his late father at which he has far too many cocktails, Ethan happens upon the equation he believes he’s been looking for in one of his father’s old journals, plugs it into the machine and uses it on himself. The next morning, he discovers he’s blacking out, something that he’s experienced a lot lately after a different drunken experiment with the machine. However, this time things are much worse. Ethan has shattered his consciousness into 10 fragments and each fragment is in control for six minutes every hour. Ethan must figure out how to make himself whole again before the stress on his brain becomes too extreme. Along the way, he enlists the help of his colleague and former girlfriend Alli (Paton Ashbrook), while attempting to keep his activities secret from his father’s research partner, Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook).
Despite its heady ideas, Minor Premise never feels didactic or dry. Instead, it maintains an air of engrossing intrigue from its opening moments until the conclusion of its brief 95-minute runtime. And while it’s full of dense dialogue about Ethan’s research, this rarely feels overwhelming or off-putting given it all comes back to recognizable and relatable concepts like identity, consciousness and memory. The movie is filmed and edited with stylish confidence, and especially in its first third, it brings you into Ethan’s already confused perspective by jumping forward and backward in time without context. Throughout, the film uses Ethan as an anchor for the audience, relying on his presence – and the introduction of some well-placed mysteries – to maintain viewers’ interest.
Sridharan proves to be a charismatic lead. Early scenes establish his ability to convincingly spout scientific dialogue in an engaging way, even as they also highlight some of the character’s less admirable qualities. Still, he’s likable enough that when his consciousness fragments you care about whether he’ll fix the problem. Plus, learning about the various fragments – a combination of states, traits and emotions – has its own rewards. It’s Alli’s observations of Ethan that bring this part of the story to life, and Ashbrook capably matches Sridharan as a more controlled but no less intelligent scientist who also ends up playing nursemaid and confidante.
Minor Premise falters somewhat in its last third as the fragments of Ethan’s conscious turn on each other, moving the film into more typical thriller territory and away from the scientific grounding that drives much of the rest of the story. On the whole, however, Minor Premise is smart, trippy and cleverly made sci-fi that establishes Schulz and his lead actors as talents to watch.