Looking back at Timecrimes

Ryan takes a look back at Nacho Vigalondo’s low budget movie Timecrimes, a film that is as frightening as it is ingenious…


It doesn’t take much to make a horror film. A handful of handsome young men and women, a rubber axe, a video camera and a bucket of blood are all the ingredients a budding filmmaker needs to knock out a cheap, plot-free slasher film of the Friday The 13th variety.

Creating a genuinely frightening film, meanwhile, takes more than just screaming and ketchup, and it’s often the case that the most terrifying movies fall outside the horror genre entirely. As a child, I found the nature-on-the-rampage premise of The Swarm scary enough to keep me awake for a week, though Richard Chamberlain’s acting may also have been partially responsible.

Then there are the films of Gaspar Noé, a director whose films are so menacing and insidiously creepy that I’ve never been able to sit through any of them more than once.

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This brings me on to Spanish writer and director Nacho Vigalondo’s 2007 movie, Timecrimes. Like a Trojan horse, it snuck onto my television screen wearing the guise of a cerebral science fiction movie about time travel, and then proceeded to scare and bewilder the hell out of me for a seemingly endless 90 minutes.

Its opening act, in particular, is the stuff of nightmares. Settling into his new country home, unsympathetic lump, Hector (Karra Elejalde), enjoys nothing more than to sit in a deckchair and stare at things in the distance through his binoculars. While his wife busily puts together a flat-pack bedside table, Hector happens to notice a shapely young lady undressing in the woodland adjoining his garden.

Foolishly heading off to take a closer look, Hector becomes embroiled in an unexpected, heart-stopping game of cat and mouse with a figure straight out of a Clive Barker novel. Draped in a filthy three-quarter length coat, head wrapped in bandages, this terrifying man-monster stabs Hector in the arm with a pair of scissors, before chasing him relentlessly through the autumnal woods.

It’s only when Hector stumbles, in his blind panic, upon a remote research facility that Timecrimes takes a turn for the sci-fi, and I won’t describe any more of what happens, since the remainder of the film deserves to be seen unspoiled.

Brilliantly blending and playing with the conventions of both slasher horror and science fiction genres, Nacho Vigalondo crafted a tense, unpredictable film on a tiny budget. The film’s final hour lacks the febrile quality of the first 30 minutes, but its plot nevertheless remains unbearably tense and enthralling right to the very end.

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Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento or Shane Carruth’s Primer, Timecrimes is as elaborately designed as a Persian rug, with early scenes foreshadowing later ones in a manner that’s only truly appreciated on a second viewing. And unlike, say, Lost, Timecrimes has a final pay-off that is satisfying and logical, albeit in a way that gave me a bit of a headache when I began to think about its implications.

What’s most memorable about Timecrimes is its atmosphere, which was so intimidating that the person I was sitting with at the time refused to watch more than 20 minutes of it. Its bandaged antagonist may be familiar from a million slasher horror films over the past three decades, but there’s something about Vigalondo’s direction (not to mention Flavio Martinez Labiano’s economical cinematography) that makes this shadowy figure far more unnerving than you’d otherwise expect.

That this creature suddenly appears in such a naturalistic, mundane environment (the bottom of an unassuming middle-aged man’s garden) makes its presence all the more nightmarish, like an adult, malevolent Alice In Wonderland.

And as Hector disappears into the film’s temporal rabbit warren, he finds himself trapped in a series of events that leads inexorably downwards. What happens to this puffy, luckless protagonist over the course of Vigalondo’s bravura debut is weird, macabre, but unforgettably compelling.

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