“Timecrimes” – A.J. Hakari

I’m pretty sure movies are bound by law to supply viewers with a jar of Advil whenever time travel is involved. These stories can be as frustrating as they are fun, often giving filmmakers free license to abandon the plot and set their sights on confusing the hell out of you. Fortunately, there are movies like Spain’s Timecrimes, which are flat-out entertaining enough to take the edge off of their maddening structures. Though not an incredibly deep film, it has a subtle lesson or two to deal out, set mostly on providing the viewing audience with one of the most trippy and engaging puzzles in recent memory.

When he got home from running errands, the last thing Héctor (Karra Elejalde) expected was to break the laws of physics as we know them. But that’s precisely what our boy does when he decides to pull a Jimmy Stewart and do a bit of spying on his surroundings. Eventually, he comes upon a fetching beauty (Bárbara Goenaga) undressing in the woods, a sight he can’t resist getting a closer look at. When he goes to investigate, though, Héctor finds himself being hunted by an ominous figure whose head is wrapped in bloody bandages. The ensuing chase leads our hero to a strange laboratory, where an attending scientist (writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) ends up sending him about an hour and a half back in time. With this advantage, Héctor sets about unraveling the mystery behind his stalker, though he soon discovers that he may be powerless in his attempts to change the future for the better.

Timecrimes rests comfortably in the middle of the spectrum of cinematic time travel. It’s not as hard-nosed an affair as Primer, nor is it a free-wheeling adventure like Back to the Future. Instead, it’s reminiscent of The Butterfly Effect, a dark and foreboding mystery that still ultimately serves as entertainment. It’s a film where the journey matters more than the destination, where the fun comes from seeing how the scattered events come together more than where everything ends up. But that’s not to say Timecrimes doesn’t arrive at a thought-provoking conclusion, nor does it wholly embrace a popcorn flick mentality. It’s your basic cautionary tale about fiddling around with the space-time continuum, but this time, Vigalondo flirts with the idea of whether we have as much control of our lives as we think. Fate plays a big part in the main story, and though I dare not spoil any surprises, I will say that Vigalondo deals with themes like this without forcing them too much or making them feel rehashed.

In the end, though, Timecrimes‘ bottom line is all about leading viewers on a journey of suspense through a small handful of timelines (and probably a dozen more it’s not telling us about). I’d be lying if I said the turn of events wasn’t easy to predict, but it’s nothing that really cripples your overall enjoyment. Though you have a good idea of how things are going to turn out, it’s still a pleasure seeing them unfold, as opposed to the story bowing to the whim of heedless special effects work. The film is pretty modest as thrillers go, assigned a teensy budget and working perfectly well within its means. The acting is just as suitable; none of the performances really stand out, but they all fit their parts nicely. Elejalde’s down-to-earth nature serves him well, for Héctor is an average schmoe thrust suddenly into an extraordinary situation he becomes increasingly desperate to escape. Though he’s a bit of a brutish jerk at times, you still stand by as he tries to right the many inadvertent wrongs he comes to be responsible for. It’s pretty much a one-man show, but Elejalde is up to the task of maintaining the audience’s interest and sympathy.

Timecrimes is a picture that’s ripe with cult classic potential. For the moment, its subtitles have pretty much guaranteed it won’t travel far beyond art-house crowds or the inner circles of the most die-hard movie geeks. But I have faith that the mind-bending odyssey Timecrimes serves up will be all the incentive skittish viewers need to buy a ticket and take the ride.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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