Written and Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, 2007
Time travel is a hobby of mine.
Well, in theory.
Whether approaching it with the mind of a scientist or the mind of a storyteller, it is the ultimate logic puzzle. The intricacies of cause and effect across multiple planes of existence, the construction (and, conversely, deconstruction) of it is is a combination of metaphorical euclidean geometry and fantastical narrative crack for me. I can’t get enough of it. It is a shame, then, that most time travel movies crumble under the nerd microscope. Regretfully TIMECRIMES does, however – and this is a big however – Nacho Vigalondo’s film still manages to be one of the coolest, most respectful temporal shifting flicks there is.
Low budget with minimal, but broad sets, this Spanish piece of Science Fiction is about a man named Hector who has recently moved to a new house in the country with his wife Carla. Hector, lounging around the yard with a pair of binoculars, heads into the forest in search of an out of place woman and ends up getting drawn into a time traveling mess after he winds up at an experimental facility atop a nearby hill. What follows is an anachronistic game of cat and mouse as Hector is forced to (re)enter the time machine on more than one occasion in attempt(s) to (re)correct the event(s) leading up to everything. It’s a well plotted, taught thriller that anyone should be able to enjoy for the mystery of it all, but there is another reason I’ve a fondness for it: Nacho Vigalondo.
No, not because he wrote arguably the coolest piece of Sci-Fi cinema released in ’08, nor because he pulled off directing it, but because of Chico, the time machine technician. Coincidentally Vigalondo plays Chico, one of only four characters in the script entire, who is one of the more level headed scientists I’ve seen on screen in a while. The character only appears to supplement Hector’s adventure, but as the permeation begins to deviate farther from the epicenter and Hector 2 and 3 enter the picture, Chico is always on point, always thinking through the consequences. Nothing surprises him and his calm understanding of the weight of their situation gives the film a density it otherwise wouldn’t have. I realize this is a subtle point. Most people probably won’t pay Chico a second thought, just think of his reactions as clever levity, but they’re more than that. If you ask me, the movie would be better off written from Chico’s point of view rather than Hector’s.
My first barrier to outright loving the film is that Hector isn’t an interesting character. He is, to a fault, an average guy, which is to say he is an underwritten character. His successes and failures have little emotion to them, I think. One moment he is an idiot, the next a creep, the next a loving husband. The balance isn’t fine tuned. That’s fine, I suppose, because the intrigue is there. The story wastes little energy, always gathering and regathering momentum (via visitation of earlier scenes with new perspective) until it reaches its ultimate destination. A destination that, I must admit, is delightfully bittersweet.
Vigalondo’s direction of it all is as exceptional as Shane Carruth’s handling of the even denser indie hit PRIMER. His budget is hidden with sweeping sets established within a grand sense of geography, a feat many multimillion dollar studio films can’t even manage. I’m still wondering if they built that time machine or if that was a repurposed, real device, in which case I want to know what the hell it was. The story is naturally better served with as limited a cast as possible, so the lack of variety there goes unnoticed.
My second barrier is, of course, the nerd microscope. This is a problem most people won’t have and I’m fine with that. Unfortunately, for those scrupulous enough to muse over time travel in their spare time, Vigalondo’s script befalls a gap in logic that almost all travel plots find themselves in. I won’t go in to details of it all as I’d probably need to draw some kind of flow chart to properly explain, but the future cannot interfere with the past if said interference is what results in that specific future thus creating an infinity loop. I realize the futility of debating the logic of the travel while ignoring the logic of the travel mechanism, that’s like talking about flames on Optimus Prime, but I can’t resist. I can turn off the pocket protector portion of my brain and get in to the movie (which I did, watching it twice in less than 24 hours), but I can’t outright ignore what glares at me.
Even still, know that with these small problems, TIMECRIMES is Science Fiction worth fighting to find. I wish it would expand across the country to more theaters. At the very least I wish it were available on R1 DVD sooner than it will be. I’ve complained about the main character and the main logic, but it’s still fun as hell and Vigalondo keeps his wits about him throughout. Great little film that I hope is a gateway for the director to bigger genre projects.