Still being as engaged by time travel plots as I was fifteen years ago, it isn’t uncommon for me to sample films with the device on a fairly frequent basis. Usually I am disappointed, but occasionally, as I was with Timecrimes, I am amazed by how such a frequently used narrative can generate such a compelling story.
Directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo, Timecrimes centers on Hector, a man who begins the film sitting on his lawn chair and surveying the neighboring hillside with a pair of binoculars. Just as his wife leaves to pick up some groceries, he spies a young woman undressing among the trees. As anyone would, he hikes up to investigate where he is tabbed in the arm with a pair of scissors wielded by a man whose face is wrapped in bandages. He flees through the woods, jumping a fence, and finds himself in a laboratory. Using a walkie-talkie, a man at the laboratory complex guides him into a strange contraption filled with liquid and shuts it.
As one with a basic idea of the story’s content would guess, that contraption is a time machine that sends him back a few hours. Using the same binoculars, Hector sees himself sitting on his lawn and looking up towards the hill. The scientist working at the lab explains to Hector, calling him Hector 2, that the man is him, his reflection at least, and only by letting that Hector 1 leave his home like he had before can the timeline remain unaffected and prevent some sort of meltdown in the space-time continuum, ingeniously left deliberately vague. Yet unable to stay put, Hector 2 leaves the complex and as a result of events, he must insert himself into his prior journey from this new perspective in order to ensure that Hector 1 makes it up to the complex to travel back in time. However, in trying to ensure this happens, Hector 2 does something he cannot live with, and thus must travel back in time again to prevent it from happening, creating/becoming Hector 3.
Confused yet? In all honesty, Vigalondo directs a story that is incredibly complex but quite easy to follow. The explanations of time travel are simple, and he uses visual cues to easily help us distinguish between the three Hectors. The narrative also is compelling as the audience begins the film knowing more than Hector 1, knows about the same as Hector 2 during his part of the film, yet is in the dark about most of what Hector 3 does and says until the conclusion. As someone who has read and watched literally dozens of time travel stories, I was pleasantly surprised that my own guesses about the resolution were off the mark. Or rather, they were spot on but only a small percentage of what Vigalondo had working in the film.
As with most stories like this, there isn’t much time for in depth characterization (no pun intended). And the financial restrictions are obvious by examining the shooting style and the inclusion of only four actors. Yet proving that a good story can trump any of these concerns, Timecrimes resonates as a truly gripping and intense time travel story that is among the best I have ever seen filmed. One imagines that Hollywood will remake this and jack it all up, so do yourself a favor if you are a fan of such films and watch the plot untarnished.