After co-producing a string of acclaimed films that ran the festival circuit, Eric Shultz takes the directorial reins for the first time with Minor Premise, a mind-splintering sci-fi that examines questions of memory, personality and the psyche. Reclusive neuroscientist Ethan (Sathya Sridharan) can’t escape from the shadow of his illustrious father nor the shame of not having his academic achievements recognised in official form, so devotes himself to unlocking an equation that will access the very core of conscientiousness. In the process, he’ll have to face up to the unpleasant aspects of his own persona which fight for supremacy within.

In time-honoured fashion, Ethan embodies the brilliant but tortured scientist on the verge of a breakthrough. The kicker here, though, is that Ethan’s mood swings – a common trope of the genre – are explained by the fact that he’s stumbled onto the ability to fragment his own character into its constituent parts, each of which get to rule the roost over his actions for exactly six minutes. Rather conveniently, it turns out there are ten of them in total, which means that intellect and anxiety get just as long at the wheel as libido and anger in the space of a single hour. Once his former girlfriend and current colleague Allie (Paton Ashbrook) gets wind of Ethan’s erratic behaviour, she invites herself round and soon becomes embroiled in the race to put our deranged hero back together again.

In order to preserve the sanctity of Ethan’s work and prevent the outside world from interfering, the pair hole up in Ethan’s apartment – a fitting environment for our current quarantine-ridden times. The cabin fever atmosphere is ramped all the way up for most of the film’s runtime, which initially succeeds at creating intensity and tension, but that kind of nail biting can’t be sustained as long as the film would like, despite the best efforts of Sridharan and Ashbrook. The rationale behind the plot is almost as fuzzy as the science, as well, meaning that it’s not quite clear exactly what Ethan and Allie are hoping to achieve with their efforts. Vague gestures towards how memory and personality are interlinked are never fully explored nor explained, and an unsatisfactory resolution makes this thriller more incomplete than convincing – but a promising debut nonetheless.

Screened as part of Fantasia Festival 2020