“The past is a foreign country,” wrote LP Hartley of the pernicious power of memory, “they do things differently there.” Most timetravel films would tend to agree with this, leapfrogging back to momentous events to highlight these differences as if seeking a canvas large enough for the concept. But what if you only travelled back an hour?
Concentrating on the micro rather than the macro, Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has reclaimed the genre from Judgement Days and DeLoreans, sealing it into the domestic sphere. The result is a suspenseful, funny, meticulously calibrated lo-fi classic that’s every bit the equal of recent Iberian dazzlers [REC] and The Orphanage.
If any of this interests you one iota, then stop reading now. Like Donnie Darko and Primer, this is a zigzagging cinematic conundrum that needs to unravel on its own terms, unaided. And for God’s sake whatever you do, don’t watch the trailer…
Sporting a proud paunch and what might be termed a Phil Collins hair-do, Héctor (Karra Elejalde) is the picture of middle-aged suburban drudgery until, sitting in his yard one afternoon, he spies a topless woman through the trees; then a flash of red; then nothing.
A nosy neighbour and, you suspect, a bit of a perv, Héctor investigates. Little does he realise that he’s started a chain of events that will see him travelling back in time to sabotage his own past, his actions creating calamitous new avenues of consequence and catastrophe that fan out like ripples in a pond.
He’s like the old woman who swallowed a fly, or perhaps The Fly; the film irresistibly bringing to mind David Cronenberg’s accidental pioneers. It’s this insect’s-eye-view of science’s gigantic leaps that makes Timecrimes so engrossing and original, the attention to detail meaning tiny clues double and redouble in significance when examined closely.
Héctor is a stultifying, ordinary man, yet the binoculars hung casually around his neck suggest he’s given to viewing things lazily, from a distance, as real life sneaks by. Just as in science, it’s exactly this combination of inquisitiveness and carelessness that leads him towards ruin.
This is a film that understands life isn’t built up of broad strokes, the plot twists of existence, but a lattice of tiny decisions that contribute to a huge, unpickable tapestry. Héctor isn’t going to invent rock’n’roll or save the world, he’s just going to destroy his cosy existence from the outside in. Time travel isn’t a passport to freedom, it’s a one-way ticket to damnation; the price isn’t death, but an obliterated future.
Speaking of which, a blander, blonder US remake is already in the pipeline, so make sure you watch the original now, before Hollywood perpetrates some temporal transgressions of its own…
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