Review: TIMECRIMES (Los Cronocrímenes)

Posted by Peter Hall - December 15th 2008 @ 12:06 am

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.


rss 7 comments
  1. December 15th, 2008 | 10:05 am | #1

    Do you agree that Paul Giamatti would be most fitting for the remake?

  2. December 15th, 2008 | 11:40 am | #2

    I’m far from the biggest Giamatti fan, but yes, that is an excellent call.

  3. December 17th, 2008 | 1:27 am | #3

    I agree with, if nothing else, your first paragraph here. So many shitty time-traveling games, movies, books but yet I find myself sneaking into the movie theater hoping that THIS one won’t suck.

    One game series that did time traveling very well was the Legacy of Kain series (it also had the best voice acting I have ever heard with the main characters). Although, time travel wasn’t the main theme, it was more about fate; but both themes were quite intertwined at times.

  4. John LaTour
    April 13th, 2009 | 8:23 am | #4

    Hector was a complete dope. I wanted him to drown in the white liquid.

    Could someone PLEASE explain to me how this whole thing STARTED? (ROT13) Ubj qvq gur tvey jvaq hc chyyvat ure fuveg hc va gur svefg cynpr sbe Urpgbe 1 gb vavgvnyyl frr vg?

    Arrrghh!

  5. April 13th, 2009 | 9:13 am | #5

    John, that is the core cause-effect discrepancy in TIMECRIMES. It fails the spirit of the rest of the movie and could easily have been assuaged with minor script tweaks.

    Oh well.

  6. adam charles
    July 6th, 2009 | 12:33 pm | #6

    I’m not so sure the start of the story can be explained anymore than the start of the Terminator films, or 12 Monkeys. Things aren’t changed, they just are. You don’t go back in time to change what’s happened, you go back in time to do what’s already been done. The main difference is that Hector’s motive to doing what he does(at least the second go around) is to consciously preserve what’s already happened, and no other time travel film I’m aware of does this. Everyone is motivated by some outside threat that serves as a means for them to unconsciously do what has already been done. Kyle Reese makes the conscious decision to go back in time to protect Sarah Connor, when in fact he was always there in the past for a period of a few days. The reason it’s easier to swallow the story of The Terminator is because the motive is not to preserve the outcome of the events, even though that’s exactly what happens. Hector is motivated, initially, to preserve the outcome of the events which makes one wonder whether the motive provoked the events, or was there an ulterior motive that “started” it all and was changed later “after” learning what would happen if things didn’t happen the way they already had. If you accept that things happened in the film because they were always going to happen then there is no start. If you want a start to exist then you’d have to believe that there’s a reason Hector would do all of the things that he does before believing that he has to in order to preserve time. In essence, you’d have to believe that Hector is subconsciously a terrible person that would force a woman to get naked for his own enjoyment. Which isn’t out of the question considering that he chooses to investigate a naked woman on his own without telling his wife about it.

  7. Adz
    August 19th, 2011 | 7:12 am | #7

    I have just seen this film and only have one issue.

    The film indicates that time can be changed as the girl dies in the forest during the timeline of Hector1 and Hector2 but then is saved by Hector3 from death in the forest, only too replace his wife dying at home.

    Surely this would indicate that both the girl and his wife can he saved? As Hector3 basically stopped the girls death once, so could do so again. Hector4/5/6 etc could try to stop the girl cycling down the road to stop the chain of events.

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