Fans of 2004's mind-bendingly complex time-travel exploration "Primer
," as well as those viewers that found that heady indie film too difficult to follow, should be first in line to see the Spanish-language "Timecrimes" ("Los cronocrímenes"). This genre-jumping, expertly designed thriller, at first set up as a horror tale before moving into different unforeseeable directions, is less cryptic and pretentious than the aforementioned "Primer
" while still demanding attention be paid in order to wrap one's mind around its intricacies. In return is a craftily satisfying and wholly absorbing experience.
Hector (Karra Elejalde) and Clara (Candela Fernández) are a happily married couple still fixing up the country home they have recently moved into. When Clara heads into town to run errands, Hector's lawn chair relaxation in the backyard is cut short when, through his binoculars, he spots a nude woman in the woods staring back at him. Going to investigate, Hector is accosted and stabbed by a psychopath with a head wrapped in stained bandages. He narrowly escapes to a nearby gated laboratory where a scientist (Nacho Vigalondo) closes him in a dome-like contraption. When Nacho reemerges, he discovers that he has gone back in time by roughly an hour and a half. Spotting a copy of himself"Hector 2," as the scientist labels himstill sitting in his yard in the lawn chair, Hector is suddenly thrust into an unthinkable situation where he must evade his other self while making sure that the same events occur so that, once again, there will only be one of him in the world.
Motion pictures dealing with the time and space continuumi.e. "The Time Machine
," the "Back to the Future" trilogyare usually fascinating, but not always easy to pull off. As with any movie involving time travel, there are small details that don't quite hold up to scrutiny, but "Timecrimes" does a relatively superb job in its attempt to fill in most of the holes. Shot on a low budget and with only four characters, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's impressive work is a study in minimalism even as the narrative is labyrinthine in the circuitous loop it finds itself within. While difficult to go into too many detailsthis is one film that the less a first-time viewer knows about it, the betterit should be said that there comes to be a third (and possibly fourth) version of Hector all existing in the same 90-minute time frame. Running into each other, or making one false step, could spell a disastrous paradox.
Before the time-travel material enters the equation, "Timecrimes" has a thirty-minute first act that works deliciously as a trippy, scare-filled horror film. Hector's run-in with the bandaged mystery man in the forest is nightmarish enough, but a sequence where he must make his way up a lighted path amidst the darkness, his only knowledge of where the killer is reliant on the information he receives from the scientist via a walkie-talkie, is utterly chilling in a grasp-the-armrest sort of way. The second and third acts are more technical than emotional, with the stakes raised and time wrapping back around on itself again and again, but no less gripping. The use of the Blondie song, "Picture This," during a few key moments exquisitely adds to the atmosphere.
The ending resolves Hector's plight to a point while leaving a couple unanswered questionslike the matter of a dead bodyhanging in the balance. Nevertheless, "Timecrimes" manages to be intellectual as well as never less than entertaining. The story is ingeniously mounted, too, and the tricky cinematography by Flavio Martínez Labiano (2001's "Bones
") is both dynamic and menacing. If time travel was an actuality, one suspects that "Timecrimes" would be pretty accurate in its thrilling, frightening, complicated depiction.