Time warp again

Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) (DVD)

Time travel is not an easy subject to take on in a serious film, even less so in a thriller where the objective is to force the audience to believe in the story enough to be thrilled by it. Luckily Timecrimes, from Spanish director (and star) Nacho Vigalondo, manages to mask the absurdity of its subject matter with oodles of tension and atmosphere. The science fiction elements in the story never weigh down the thriller elements as they might with a less subtle approach. It’s difficult to stop watching, and isn’t the type of movie you can throw on and veg out to. You’ll need to give it your undivided attention if you want to untangle the plot.

Timecrimes tells the story of Héctor (Karra Elejalde), a dopey everyman trying to get some time to relax as he and his wife move into a new home. Héctor briefly spies a young woman removing her clothes in the woods outside his property and, naturally, decides to try and find her. While naked girl-hunting, he’s attacked by some sort of psychotic pink mummy, and thus flees to a nearby mad-science laboratory where he is unwittingly transported a few hours back in time.

This all happens in the first half hour, and believe it or not it gets stranger from there.

Despite its silly premise, the film doesn’t descend into farce, largely because the time-travel trope is played through simply and logically. A few time travel rules are set up, and are followed throughout the movie. That internal consistency allows you to accept its supernatural plot-devices without compromising the movie’s realism.

The film’s greatest strength is its remarkable visual storytelling which creates a perfect balance of subtlety and clarity which forces the viewer to engage with the story but does not make it difficult to do so. The camera lingers on key objects just enough to let us know that what we are seeing will have a greater significance to the narrative than we yet understand. A shot of a bicycle with trash strewn over it assumes a supernatural gravity; we immediately know what we’re seeing will be important later on, and want to know why. Héctor spends the majority of the movie alone and speechless, leaving Elejalde some room to chew the scenery.
Timecrimes is a fun and inventive movie, I recommend that you rent it before the inevitable Hollywood remake is released (slated for 2011), as the advertising for the latter may spoil some of the clever twists in the original (take Quarantine for example.)

Matthew Esteves