Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Timecrimes begins in a state of tranquil domesticity, soon to be disturbed: middle-aged Hector sits on his lawn chair, staring into the distance with binoculars to pass the time while his wife heads out grocery shopping. This peaceful scene is upended by the sight of a beautiful young woman taking off her shirt, which lures the curious Hector into the woods. From there, everything falls apart quickly: the woman, now completely naked, lies unconscious or dead, and a man swathed in pink bandages attacks Hector with a pair of scissors.
After a frantic chase in the woods, Hector seeks refuge in a nearby house where—keep in mind, this is a B-movie and we’ll have to forgive a few contrivances for the sake of our fun—a scientist is working on a time machine. Unaware of what he is stepping into, Hector hides in the machine and is transported back in time one hour, where his desire to restore his life to normal forces him into a series of increasingly brutal acts that threaten to destroy any hope of returning to his life as it was. But does he have a choice? Is it all simply fate, or is the man’s hapless slide into violence a sign of this paunchy, placid husband’s own hidden dark nature?
The pleasure of watching such a curious pretzel-plot unravel is often the main reward of these sorts of mind-fucks, and Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo throws in a few horror-movie style jolts for good measure (Mr. Crazy Pink Bandage Man initially seems to have wandered in off the set of a nearby cheap slasher flick). The film is compelling from end to end, but the twisting plot suggests a moral weight the film isn’t strong enough to carry. At its most unsettling, the film shows Hector stage-managing the events surrounding his entrance into the time machine, creating new tragedies as he attempts to reverse old ones. There are a lot of ways to look at what happens here—the dangers of voyeurism, the folly of fighting fate, the violence buried in mundane lives—but none are completely satisfying, and all of these ideas find only tentative realization in the film itself.
Granted, there’s a fair amount of enjoyment to be found in the way the film replays the baffling events in the woods from new angles, each time unveiling a new layer to Hector’s complicity in his own fate. It’s a clever structure, but Vigalondo is ultimately disinterested in teasing out the nuances of his premise or exploring the mysteries of these characters, preferring to play with this rather elaborate toy he has found instead of figuring out what makes it run. Which is really a shame when you consider the intriguing marital anxiety underlining the action: Hector only falls into this horrible trap after following the young woman into the woods, and then spends the rest of the film imperiling both the woman and his own wife in an attempt to put his life back in order. Is this all just the self-fulfilling prophecy of masculine guilt run amuck? The somewhat dissatisfying ending overlooks a lot of these thornier moral issues, but it leaves us with a parody of the connubial bliss of the film's beginning, suggesting the crimes which this stability is built upon.