REVIEW: Los cronocrímenes [Timecrimes] [2008]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 92 minutes | Release Date: June 27th, 2008 (Spain)
Studio: Versus Entertainment / Magnolia Pictures
Director(s): Nacho Vigalondo
Writer(s): Nacho Vigalondo

“No one knows our phone number”

All he had to do was stay hidden for an hour, biding time away from sight as his impossible doppelganger went through the same motions of an hour earlier. The ramifications of time travel would have been erased; the insane crippling fear of seeing another man identical to him kissing his wife goodbye a distant memory. But curiosity proves too much as the strangeness leading him to the time portal in the first place was too odd to simply hope it would happen again. What Héctor (Karra Elejalde) never anticipated, however, was how nothing occurred by chance. Everything he went through, is going through, and will go through again was a result of his own actions. And with this realization, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo‘s Los cronocrímenes [Timecrimes] turns the fantastic notion of traveling through time into a nightmarish exercise in futility.

Héctor not only becomes a slave to his actions, but to their consequences as well. Vigalondo takes us through the multiple layers of existence as his lead attempts to go back and right wrongs while keeping previous incarnations of himself ignorant to subsequent ones. He lays forth a journey of moral ambiguity and questionable ethics that makes justifiable crimes out of forcing a helpful stranger to strip naked in the woods or blackmailing a scientist into feigning ignorance to not expose his own complicit actions. Appropriately titled, the film portrays a confused victim as he becomes comfortable with the science surrounding his ordeal and eventually a willing participant in the inexcusable deeds necessary to put his life back in order. The scared and bloodied prey only needs a slight push to turn predatory and understand the selfish acceptance of collateral damage.

The true success of Timecrimes comes from this metamorphosis. Héctor is at first a tired gentleman bogged down by work and the huge project of giving his house a facelift. His introduction is built around a chuckle as we see the trail of supplies and groceries that fell to the driveway from the open trunk of his car. Here is the initial sign of the dark cloud looming above; the first stroke of bad luck that only escalates as the day goes by. All he hoped to accomplish was a quiet evening lounging outside while wife Clara (Candela Fernández) went to the store, a prospect derailed by a glimpse of something in the trees beyond his property. With interest piqued, his voyeurism evolves beyond the accidental as the sight of an attractive woman’s uncovered breasts draws him closer.

From here the film blurs horror and science fiction similar to the wonderful micro-budgeted Primer from Shane Carruth as the levels of co-existing realities and copies dangerously increase. We never discover what the mysterious laboratory is used for, who owns it, or what its future holds—it simply is. A super-secretive base that happens to have time travel technology housed within, one curious employee (Vigalondo) without clearance to ever see the invention in action becomes the orchestrator of all that follows. With the flip of a switch the endless possibilities of moving back and forth from that point until the machine turns off comes to life. Héctor’s arrival ends up merely the result of such an action’s potential. As long as the pool of milky fluid was humming with electricity, anything could exit forth.

With Clara and the nameless woman (Bárbara Goenaga) playing the unwitting bystanders caught in the midst of a historical breakthrough as important and destructive as the atomic bomb, we watch as the overlapping timelines expose the real truth hidden from view. An infinite number of Héctors could travel through the pool as long as all returned to it so the last one out remained alone. But when it’s discovered the first traveler was in fact the cause of the second, one can see how impossible the chain becomes to break. Innocents are tainted and monsters are created. Whether the violent, bandaged mad man running through the woods armed with scissors or Héctor himself devolving into a feral creature who would stop at nothing to be back with his wife at home, escape only comes at the price of death.

The plot then recycles itself back to the start as we watch events occur from multiple vantages; Héctor’s journey folding onto itself while past versions do what has already been done. Vigalondo’s handling of such revelations is stunningly assured for a first-time feature film director and his story finds a way to keep itself airtight beyond the inherent issues from a chicken and egg paradox’s genesis. It only gets darker as the tale progresses to show the lengths someone would go to in order to find his way back. Timecrimes becomes a cautionary tale on the butterfly effect and danger to reliving what has already been done rather than the enjoyable adventure so much science fiction would have us believe.

Vigalondo creates grand-scale horror out of innocuous motions with the flip of a switch, faulty latch of a car trunk, or quick glance through a pair of binoculars irrevocably damaging the lives of four strangers. And while the results of such actions may eventually be cruel, violent, and irredeemable, the psychological impact of it all finds itself as stimulating entertainment on a level far beyond the genre’s simple appeal. This is a heady piece of art that will make you think of what occurs onscreen as well as what you might do in the same situation. A series of impossible choices brought upon by an impossible event, the genuine fear and confusion of all is felt and understood just like the calm silence of escape at its end.

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