Format: DVD from Ida Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.
I don’t know if there is a lot of middle ground when it comes to time travel stories. You either like them a lot and appreciate them, or you are the type who ends up confused by them. I am typically of the latter type; time travel stories tend to leave me cold because I end up being confused by them very quickly. My mind doesn’t seem to work that way. I have to focus a great deal to make myself understand. That makes a film like Timecrimes or Los Cronocrimenes if you prefer) a chore, even when it’s one I’ve seen before.
Knowing that, I’ll also say this: Timecrimes is one of the better time travel movies that you’re going to find. This is a very smart movie, and one that is exquisitely plotted. It does make sense, but the path is exactly as convoluted as you expect a time travel movie to be. This is not a film to watch in the background while you are doing something else, and that’s even if you are watching the less-than-optimal dubbed version.
This does leave me with something of a conundrum when it comes to what I typically do here, though. There are two real issues with me essentially recounting large parts of the film’s narrative. The first is that the narrative twists in a lot of directions. The second, arguably more important, is that Timecrimes should not be spoiled on a blog. You should experience the convoluted plot for yourself without it being ruined.
That all being said, I will cover some of the basics here. We’re going to start innocently enough, with Hector (Karra Elejalde) returning home to his wife Clara (Candela Fernandez). Sitting innocently in his garden, he scans the area around his house with a pair of binoculars and sees a young woman (Barbara Goenaga) taking off her clothes. When he looks back to her a moment later, she is missing. He investigates and finds her lying nude and unconscious in the middle of the forest, when he is suddenly stabbed in the arm with a pair of scissors by a man covered in bloody bandages. Things quickly escalate from here.
Timecrimes is remarkably efficient, going through several time loops to reach its conclusion in just over 90 minutes. It’s also efficient with its cast, needing only a fourth actual character in the person of the scientist, played by the film’s writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. The fifth member of the cast is Juan Inciarte, who is used when two of the same people need to be on screen at the same time.
What makes Timecrimes work is what makes any time travel movie work. The things that don’t make sense when we encounter them in the first act need to make sense in the second act, and the mysteries of the second act need to be clarified in the third. Timecrimes does this beautifully, and in many cases we can see what is coming just before it happens because in a sense we’ve already seen it happen. Second, time travel films need that sense of inevitability, that no matter how much the protagonist struggles against what they know is going to happen, it’s going to happen anyway, often caused by precisely the things that they are hoping will change their own past and their past self’s future.
That is the joy and the terror of a film like Timecrimes. Dumb time travel movies give our protagonist a way out of the loop and allow them to change their own past and thus their own memories of what they have experienced. It creates a much larger dilemma ad paradox than time travel itself does. Smart time travel films—like this one—give us a story that is inevitable, and even though we know what is to come and how some of it will happen, it is in watching that inevitable story play out that the story becomes worth seeing.
I have watched Timecrimes before. Years ago, when I had a regular podcast, this was a selected film. I liked it on that previous watch, but admitted at the time that I probably didn’t like it as much as it deserved. That’s true—I liked it more this time. Probably its biggest weakness comes from the way in which it is classified. This is seen as a horror film, at least marginally, and it really is only marginally a horror film. Certainly horrific things happen, but it’s much more thriller than horror. What horror there is comes from the existential reality that none of what happens can be changed.
Why to watch Timecrimes: If you’re going to do time travel, you should do it like this.
Why not to watch: If you don’t pay strict attention, you’re going to be lost.