Sunday, 26 February 2012

Film Review | Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes] (2007)

One of my all-time favourite Treehouse Of Horror Halloween specials on The Simpsons comes unsurprisingly from the series' golden era . It's the one where Homer fixes a toaster, only to accidentally create a time machine. The one thing Homer manages to remember as he travels back and forth from a prehistoric past is that even the smallest change can drastically alter history. After squashing one insect, he returns to the present to find Ned Flanders as the planet's evil overlord. The remainder of the story sees Homer return to the past again and again to try and put things right. He doesn't manage it, which is okay for Homer as the Halloween specials are non-canonical, but is an important lesson for any would-be time travelers. Obviously the protagonist of Timecrimes hasn't seen that episode.

Timecrimes follows the life of Héctor (Karra Elejalde) one evening as he and his wife (Candela Fernández) move into a new house remotely located in the Spanish countryside. Héctor spies something moving, and then a young woman undressing, in the nearby woodland. After his investigations lead to him being stabbed in the arm and pursued by a man with a heavily bandaged face, Héctor stumbles into a research lab looking for assistance. And that's when things get really strange, as Héctor soon finds he has time-travelled around an hour and a half into the past.

Stylistically, Timecrimes has a feel very similar to that of another recent time travel film, Shane Carruth's Primer. The world the characters inhabit is pretty everyday, and the slightly washed out, sepia tinted palette director (and writer) Nacho Vigalondo opts for gives the whole thing a darkly authentic feel. The time travel technology, much like that in Primer, has an amateurish charm, which coupled with its apparent unpredictability helps to drive the plot and lend credibility to some of the twists and turns it takes.

The cast is small but solid, with Elejalde leading things with a performance that impresses more and more as the film progresses. The evolution of his manner and temperament, particularly in the film's final act, make Héctor a compellingly flawed protagonist throughout.

The plot just about manages to hang together. The whole thing is presented in a linear fashion, which helps us as the viewer keep track of things as they get more and more complex. The first act is potentially the strongest, as we are thrown into a mystery thriller which piles on the tension and unanswered questions minute by minute. It is in the film's second act where things dip in interest and quality. The answers given to questions posed in the opening act are either predictable or don't feel believable enough - some of the decisions Héctor makes, and his comprehension of the situation as a whole in this part of the film, seem downright idiotic. There are a couple of good twists thrown in, and a sequence where Héctor returns to his new house in the dark is pleasingly tense, but the action feels plodding and unremarkable which leads to things getting a little tedious at times as things head towards the final act. Thankfully, the finale provides the same thrills as the first act, whilst throwing in a few more unexpected twists. By the time the credits roll, the unsatisfying nature of the middle segment can be (mostly) forgiven.

In the end, Timecrimes is a well made and original film. Whilst comparisons have already been made to Primer, the influence of films such as Memento can also be seen, and whilst it never reaches the heights of either of these two, Timecrimes is certainly a worthwhile watch in its own right. Without the less impressive second act, this would have been a truly excellent film; as it is, it's flawed but still very good. Apparently, an English language remake directed by David Cronenberg is currently in the works - on the strength of the original, I'm looking forward to it already.


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