Like so many science fiction films revolving around the idea of time travel, Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes (2007) is a movie that’s more clever than genuinely good. Combine the predictable nature of time travel discussions — paradoxes and philosophical musings — with the fact that this is Vigalondo’s first feature, and it has all the earmarks of low budget (occasionally ingenious) filmmaking that’s meant to grab attention. However, its cleverness is the reason it works on any level at all. Working with four cast members (including Vigalondo himself) and a relatively minor $2.6 million budget, Timecrimes has a knack for looking more gussied up than it actually is, mostly because of the film’s ability to surprise.
I don’t want to get too much into the inner workings of the plot, since the vast majority of the film’s enjoyment lies in how it unravels. The setup finds Hector (Karra Elejalde) moving into a new house with his wife (Candela Fernandez). After sitting in his backyard with a pair of binoculars, Hector sees a topless woman and something going on in the woods behind his house. Instead of minding his own business, he decides to snoop. This nosiness leads him to a naked, unconscious girl, a violent man with a bandaged face, and — eventually — a time machine squirreled away in a secret lab.
Timecrimes goes to great lengths to tie the threads together — often switching back and forth between horror flick, science fiction and thriller — with the crux of the film depending on some new twist or turn right around the corner. Any and all of these surprises are designed to put Hector through the ringer, turning his life into a very singular type of hell. This is truly the point of Timecrimes. Hector opens the film acting dopey and boorish. His clothes are sloppy and his posture bad, and his wife makes reference to how he’s too tired to argue with her. Subsequently, his inability to mind his own business lands him in trouble. But by the time the credits roll, Hector has become a humbled, broken man (and for very good reason).
Or at least that’s how the film seems on the surface but, underneath, the picture questions — in the tradition of time travel sci-fi — the idea of inevitability. Not all of it works (the downbeat ending for the sake of cleverness, is a bit unfortunate), but when Timecrimes is at the top of its game, it’s a genuinely neat little movie.