“I need help. A man is after me. He’s trying to kill me.”
We’re continuing Time Travel month here at SAW with a Time Travel Movie Image quiz, an open thread about Which Movie has the Best Time Travel Mechanics, reviews of La Jetée and Kate and Leopold (by Lee McCutcheon and Romona Comet) and some Time Travel TV Show Power Rankings. And here at at Fear Flashback we’re still taking our sobriquet seriously – and reviewing some time-related terror.
Fair Warning: I first saw Timecrimes a decade ago, and I was lucky enough to go in blind. I’ll suggest you do the same, if you haven’t seen it yet. Time travel movies are better if you see them without having the plot spoiled. Just skip to the The Medium section and then go watch it on your preferred venue. I’ll wait.
I’m not even sure what got me to finally check the movie out, because the poster/cover art is incredibly lackluster. It features a man whose head is covered in pink bandages, dressed in a ragged, black trenchcoat and carrying bloody scissors. It looks like nothing more than a cheap slasher flick, and I think I avoided it as such for a long time.
Timecrimes is not a cheap slasher flick. You can be reassured on this point.
Instead, the film turned out to be a smart and taut time-loop thriller featuring an unlikely protagonist caught in a series of increasingly dark and tense events. The director, Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal), manages a complex plot with some dark humor and surprising twists (while doing double duty as one of the secondary characters). I was impressed and entertained, and it remains one of my favorite time travel films.
I did run into a small issue the second time I watched the film a few years ago. The version I saw that time was dubbed, not subtitled. It was fairly well done, but I still vastly prefer to hear the original tone and cadence of the actors when watching a film in a foreign language. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the dubbing for the main character, which lent him a more nebishy and plaintive tone than I remembered from the first viewing. This lead directly to a distinctly different reading of the film for me, creating an active dislike of the main character – so if you have the option I highly recommend finding a version with subtitles.
I watched Timecrimes on Amazon Prime where it’s streaming for subs. It’s also available for subs on Hoopla, Kanopy and Mubi and streaming for free with ads on Tubi, Crackle and Vudu. You can rent or purchase it on the usual services. There’s no Region A Blu-ray release, but you can usually find a cheap DVD copy at places like Bull Moose.
Timecrimes begins with Hector (Karra Elejalde), a slighltly schlubby guy who is renovating his home in the Spanish countryside, along with his wife, Clara (Candela Fernandez). It’s been a long day, and Hector tries to take a nap, but he’s interrupted by a phone call, though no one speaks when he picks up. Later on, as he’s relaxing in his backyard with his binoculars (as you do) he spots a young woman in the woods, disrobing. After his wife leaves on an errand, Hector walks up into the woods looking for the woman.
Now this is one of those moments where my perception has changed due to my reaction to the dubbed version. In the first viewing I was fairly sure that Hector was concerned about the girl – that he saw something that made him think she was in trouble. The second time around I felt like he was just being a voyeur, that he was hoping to get a closer look. I don’t know if either impression is the correct one – it’s just a noted change in my own viewing and this third time around I’m ambivalent. I don’t think Hector is a total perv, but neither do I think his intentions are perfect either.
He does find the girl, unconscious and nude, but he’s then savagely attacked by a figure in a long dark coat whose face is completely wrapped in pink bandages. Hector flees, into the woods, but the figure keeps coming, seemingly able to find where Hector is hiding at will.
Hector finally comes to an empty research facility, breaking a window to gain entrance. There are elements that will become important later – a phone, a calendar on the wall with a strange drawing – but at this point he’s just trying to find a place to hide and someone to help him. In a sub-basement he finds a walky-talky and communicates with an engineer who is working at another building. Told that the bandaged man is coming he flees to the engineer who talks him into hiding in a strange device.
And then he goes back in time. And of course THAT goes well.
I still really enjoy the plot, and how well constructed all the events are. I mean, I’ve seen it before and yet I still forgot things. Because of course Hector has screwed things up, and because he’s gone back in time he thinks he has a chance to fix it all. Except that’s not how time works – at least not in this movie – and the things he has to do and how he has to do them keep him on a path that spirals inevitably towards disaster and death.
That the whole thing revolves around time travel would seem like a plot giveaway (of course the title should have already gone a long way towards that), but it’s not the most important part of the movie. It’s that flailing against what should be an inevitability – the attempt to work around events that are already in place in order to fix things without changing them – that provides the real motivation of the film.
Timecrimes manages a lot with very little, as there’s not much in the way of explanations, special effects or even action sequences. If I’m honest I’m not even sure if it make much logical sense, but the things that do line up manage to do so in the best possible way and Elajalde as Hector is perfectly believable as a slightly unlikeable everyman put into an impossible situation. Are there a few too many convenient moments? Yes, and these proliferate as the movie continues, but as the setups pay off again and again you forgive the moments that miss.
The Bottom Line
Time travel movies – good ones, anyway – really revolve on a tightness of plot and a weaving of elements together in such a way that they appear normal at first viewing and gain significance only as the film unfolds. Timecrimes really excels at this and even if I still ended up not really liking Hector much – and feeling like the ending was unjustifiably upbeat for him – it is very satisfying in the way things all fit together.
At one point in time (sorry) David Cronenberg was attached to do a re-make. I’m sad to find that this eventually went nowhere, because I’d love to be in a timeline where this was made and I’d gotten to see it.