Choose Your Own Adventure

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14



      Writer/Director Nacho  Vigalondo’s first feature film, Timecrimes, is that rarest of films: a movie about mystery that remains impenetrable even after its hand is played. As a sci-fi thriller about time travel and the paradox of restoring time anomalies, it actively frustrates its audience because it requires them to fill in some of the film’s blanks.To stay in the game, viewers have to stay a few steps ahead of the plot. More importantly, to get the big picture, they need to wonder how fixed these characters’ actions are and if they actually have any say in what they’re doing or are about to do. In other words, Timecrimes is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure story.

    Right from the start, Timecrimes positions itself as a story about being in the dark. Héctor (Karra Elajalde) returns home to find the mail scattered throughout his driveway but that’s not a clue. He greets Clara (Candela Fernández), his wife and goes upstairs. He sees something in the distance. Breaking out his binoculars, he sees something blurry in the bushes, but then the phone rings. Later, he resumes scanning his massive backyard with his binoculars, but it’s not quite clear what he sees even when he’s looking at it in focus. First it looks like a thing.

    Then it looks like a woman. And then, Héctor stops looking and acts. That kind of calculated distance is the most unsettling and often refreshingly frustrating thing about Timecrimes.Though Flavio Martinez Labiano’s fluid camerawork, which effortlessly shifts from shaky cam to swooping crane shots, reassures the audience that events are following a static pattern, that’s never definitely confirmed by Vigalondo’s all-seeing authorial eye or his characters. Similarly, Héctor never announces his intentions nor explains what he’s thinking. He just does things in hopes that they will restore order to his recently overturned life and viewers likewise have to become involved in writing his story just to keep up. It’s not easy being kept in the dark, but Vigalondo does everything he can to playfully frustrate viewers, imposing both trivial and insurmountable stumbling blocks for the sake of preventing them from easily sympathizing with his discombobulated hero.Watching Héctor, an overweight, balding man in his forties stumble around in pursuit of something he’s not even sure is there, pushes the character away.Watching him move ahead stubbornly, without any motivation but faith in his immediate abilities, is what shrewdly frustrates a complete understanding of why he’s doing what he’s doing. To keep up with him, viewers have to make excuses for him—why does he break the glass door? Or why does he drive off after being told to stay put?— which then become speculations regarding what exactly he’s running toward and why he’s actively pursuing it to avoid it. Vigalondo keeps Héctor’s motivations close to his chest but gives up just enough to keep the audience on tenterhooks.

    Nothing in Timecrimes can be simply read; instead, everything requires some explication. Every detail, from the tossing of a phone underneath the couch to the placement of a ladder, can import something— inviting wild guesses and active skepticism for the sake of gaining a momentary advantage over the film’s admirably knotted plot. By the end, details fall into place with a minimum amount of exposition or explicit explanation, making it the best kind of action movie—the kind that’s actually about action. -- Timecrimes Written & Directed by Nacho Vigalondo At Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Running Time: 89 min --