NOVEMBER 25, 2008
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
NOTE – Timecrimes (Spanish: Los Cronocrímenes) is not really a horror movie, but it’s sort of set up like one (a guy in a mask is seemingly killing people with a pair of scissors). That, along with its coverage on Bloody-Disgusting and other horror sites, qualifies it as horror per my “rules”.
During my October Extras 2 marathon, I reviewed Primer, which is my favorite time travel movie of all time (or at least tied with Twelve Monkeys). The reason I love these movies as much as I do is because the time travel element is well developed and largely hole-free (ignoring the basic plot hole that time travel cannot exist, obviously). Timecrimes, for the most part, fits in with that template; the time travel is complex but largely consistent, and while not as perfect as those other films, it’s still one of the better TT movies in recent memory, and surely one of the more entertaining.
Unlike Primer, our hero isn’t a genius, or even involved with the time travel experiment. Hector is more like Joe in Idiocracy: an average man in every way. The film’s first 10-15 minutes really sell this concept, as we see that he is absent minded, a bit lazy, and just wants to sit around and look at birds all day. How he gets involved with the time travel machine is one of the movie’s most clever inventions, and writer/director (and co-star) Nacho Vigalondo wisely never bogs the movie down in explanations or special effects, keeping the entire thing from Hector’s point of view. Like Primer, however, this means that we see effects of the time travel before we are aware that time travel is a story element.
Unfortunately, this has a bit of a drawback, as once the first twist is revealed (something I had figured out), the movie has sort of shown its entire hand, and further twists/revelations become more and more predictable. Like Dark Floors, there’s some great bits when you see cause and effect situations being caused by the same person in different timelines, but it gets a bit rote after awhile. I didn’t like feeling so ahead of Hector; at one point he hears a voice on his walkie-talkie, and I knew instantly that it was him from a half hour or so in the future (or past, from the other one’s POV).
Also, the movie never makes clear exactly why Hector goes to such lengths to make things the way he found them earlier. I need to spoil a key twist in order to explain (it’s revealed before the halfway mark, for what it’s worth), so don’t read any further if you want to be completely in the dark.
Once we learn that Hector himself is the killer he is running from (the mask actually a bandage for a wound he encountered after time traveling), we sort of watch the movie again from his time-traveler's point of view. Which is awesome in theory, but I kept getting distracted by killer Hector’s insistence on re-doing everything exactly as hero Hector saw it. At one point during hero Hector’s journey (before the killer’s identity is revealed), he sees the killer turn around and mock his use of binoculars. So later, when we are with killer Hector, we see him keep spinning around and making the mocking action over and over until he gets it “right” (i.e. hero Hector sees it). But why do it at all? Hero Hector wouldn’t know anything was “different” (since it hadn’t happened to him yet), and killer Hector knows that hero Hector’s downfall is the result of his running from the killer. Killer Hector, in short, should have just hid somewhere, letting hero Hector give up and go back home, and thus never time travel in the first place. Killer Hector could then, I dunno, go to Maui and drink umbrella drinks or something, assuming he didn’t alter himself out of existence.
Things get further complicated when a 3rd Hector (let’s call this one “Smart Hector”) shows up and tries to set everything right once again. Again, he does things that ensure things happen the same way, which doesn’t make sense when he is specifically there to change it. He seems to want everything to happen the same way up until a certain point, but why THAT point is the one he chose is entirely unclear (the time travel device is a liquid chamber – just let all the duplicates drown!). Sure, it leads to some funny/cool moments (at this point, smart Hector knows more about what’s going on than the time travel inventor guy), but it seems contradictory to what the character is actually trying to accomplish. Smart Hector should simply kill the other two and be done with it.
I assume that Vigalondo is making the point that once something occurs, it cannot be changed, but it often seems like it COULD, because killer Hector does things over and over to get them right for hero Hector. It would make more sense for him to try to change things and inadvertently cause them to happen anyway, rather than the other way around, no? There is a moment later in the film that should be an example of how the sort of “can’t change fate” mechanism works – killer Hector is seeking a battery for the time machine, which the inventor has discarded in the woods. The inventor convinces Hector not to try to fix things anymore, and Hector tosses his walkie talkie (which he is using to manipulate the other Hector) on the ground, and then asks the inventor to shine his light on it so he could see to smash it. The inventor does, and then they see that the battery is there on the ground next to it. THAT is how the other scenes should work; selling the idea that it was fate that put the battery back in their hands.
In the words of the great Mrs... whatever her name was, “No matter what course of action Collins took, he was destined to his own fate. Fate never changes.”
But if you ignore these issues, you’ll have a lot of fun. Hector (all three versions) is a great protagonist, and I love the relative simplicity of the story (there are only four people in the film). And even though I started mentally calling the twists long before they occurred, it was still fun to watch Hector’s realization to these facts, even smart Hector got surprised a few times by realizing he was the cause of something that effected him in the past. It also has a surprisingly dark ending that felt very right.
So my advice? Go see it and only think about it as much as you would any straightforward movie. It doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lot of fun and definitely a unique take on the genre. Let’s hope the American remake (reportedly by David Cronenberg) can retain the simplicity while somehow clarifying why Hector does things a certain way once he has become privy to the situation.
What say you?