As enjoyable as Back To The Future‘s illogical history-changing exploits were, anyone currently engrossed in season five of Lost will be well versed in the proper rules of time travel: that once something has happened it will always have happened, regardless of attempts to go back and alter it. In fact, by attempting to go back and influence history, you may find yourself the cause of the very event you intended to prevent.
It’s this mind-bending concept that low-budget Spanish film Timecrimes explores, and with fascinating results. A tiny cast of just four characters (or is it five? Or six..?) play out a snaking story so immaculately constructed that it almost challenges you to find holes in its logic.
When Hector spies on a young woman undressing in the woods behind his new home and foolishly goes for a closer look, he’s attacked by a bloodied and bandaged man and flees to a mysterious complex nearby. Its owner helps him to avoid detection, but when Hector re-emerges just seconds later to find night has become day, it’s clear his hiding place was more than just a storage chamber. And when a familiar sight reveals precisely where and when his travels have taken him, he sets off a chain of events that reverberate on more than one timeline.
Revealing anything more about Hector’s rapidly unravelling world would spoil the tension, but suffice it to say you’ll spend the whole film asking yourself variants on the big circular question: would Hector have gone to explore in the first place if his future self hadn’t – inadvertently or otherwise – created the scene he initially went to explore? And just when you think you’ve got that question answered and the logic figured out, Timecrimes adds to the puzzle with a challenge for Hector that would appear to break its own rules on time travel.
With its scientific feel, it’s a great deal closer to 2004’s baffling Primer than anything in the mainstream, and both are the kind of film that demands repeat viewing. The difference is that, while films like Primer and Donnie Darko need a second showing to work out what the hell’s going on, Timecrimes makes absolute sense the first time round. The fact that a further viewing reveals no gaping holes is testament to the brilliance of the small, contained plot; it makes a hugely complex concept work by keeping things simple.
The subject matter has been explored countless times in the movies, but rarely with such logic and intelligence. Sure, Timecrimes lacks big-budget action scenes, and its subtitles will keep it from the success it deserves (unless it follows that other Spanish gem, Rec, onto the crap Hollywood remake pile), but anyone with half a brain and a desire to be challenged as well as entertained will get many viewings out of this wonderful little film.
Timecrimes is available now.