Time travel is one of those concepts I think all screenwriters want to play with at one time another until they realize that it’s very easy to trip yourself up. Like real time travel (if there is such thing), changes in the past will irrecoverably alter the future in ways you can’t foresee. So a writer, like a time traveler, would have to step very carefully so as not to leave gaping holes in the time continuum. As you can imagine, many writers usually decide on a safer path.
Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes doesn’t just choose to charge headfirst into the dangers of temporal displacement but features a character doing everything in his power to change the future…I mean, the past…trust me, it’s that kind of movie. The film is about a man who unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a time travel experiment. After emerging from a time machine housed in a secret, out-of-the-way testing lab, he realizes that he must recreate the circumstances that brought him there to begin with such as posing woman naked in the woods, stalking himself, crashing into his car, etc.
As with most well-done time travel movies, there’s careful attention paid to tying together both sides of the action- as the one who is viewing it, and the one who is committing it. We’ll be presented with something that seems innocently unimportant at first and then discover its importance as the main character attempts to recreate his steps. But when did these steps occur? The beginning of the sequence is hard to pinpoint and the end is a mind bender.
Another wonderful thing about this film is that it works without the need for a large cast or expensive visual effects. We spend most of our time with the main character as he mimics his past self. There are a few other characters who play their parts in repairing the fabric of time but for the most part, it’s the journey of one man…I mean, three men. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. There are no real special effects to speak of. Aside from the actual machine, this is a time travel movie that keeps us planted in the real world. It’s as if anyone, you or me, suddenly got stuck in a doozy of a situation and had to race against time to fix it. Cleverness is the backbone of Timecrimes. The script is written like a thrilling mystery- one that becomes increasingly more and more difficult to unravel with time travel mucking things up.
On a purely technical level, the film hits all the right spots. It’s a beautifully shot film with strong performances. Timecrimes is a gem that doesn’t become bloated with explanations or extraneous reasons why a time machine exists down the road. It just does. I also love the fact that the time that is actually traveled is relatively small in comparison to other films. Oh, the damage you can do in just an hour.
This film is a great mystery and the kind of film you revisit to catch things you might have missed the first time around. Upon a second viewing, you’ll find a new appreciation for the tightly woven story told on such dangerous ground.