Feb 8, 2009

Timecrimes [15]

Dir: Nacho Vigalondo
Remakes of foreign films, made for audiences too lazy to read, can generally go fuck themselves, but if the rumours end up being true, and David Cronenberg directs the remake of Timecrimes I’ll make an exception and go and see it. But that by no means implies that you should miss Spanish writer/actor/director Nacho Vigalondo’s excellent feature debut.

Timecrimes is a desperately difficult film to review because, hard as I always try to avoid spoilers, there’s so little that can be revealed about this movie without giving away something that would lessen your enjoyment if you go in knowing it. Basically Hector (Karra Elejalde) and his wife (Candela Fernandez) are moving in to a new house. While sitting in the garden looking through his binoculars Hector spies a naked girl (Barbara Goenaga) in the woods, when his wife goes out he goes to investigate, sparking off a chain of events that lead to violence and, as the title would suggest, time travel.

That’s all I’m saying plotwise, because Timecrimes is so beautifully and tightly structured that I don’t want to ruin any of its surprises for you. It unfolds in a pretty standard three-act structure, the first a suspense thriller and the second and third turning that original thriller inside out, and exploring it from every possible angle. Vigalondo’s screenplay is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, every piece is brilliantly calculated, and every moment has a function and a payoff. Rather than taking the Hollywood route of talking down to an audience and explaining every detail it rewards attention to detail with scares and laughs that won’t otherwise make sense. While it’s often surprising the great thing about Timecrimes is that it never fails to make sense, the ways it folds progressively in on itself feel strangely natural, and it’s this that makes it engaging even when, at some point in act two, you can find yourself ahead of the film.

Quite apart from all this cleverness Timecrimes is, at heart, a rattlingly good thriller. The largely unseen threat of the first act is deeply unnerving, and there’s a chase up a hill that gets the heart pounding, along with a fistful of jump scares that work brilliantly (before being played again, for a big laugh, in act two). Vidalongo’s direction isn’t groundbreaking, a lot of his shots are pretty standard, but he makes it look good, and the multiple perspectives on various events are ingeniously shot. A particularly nice directorial touch is the use of Blondie’s Picture This, which the film manages to make feel threatening not just once but three times.

If there is a problem with the screenplay it’s that the female characters are afforded almost no depth, existing simply as props (an extremely attractive, naked, prop in the case of Barbara Goenaga) but this is somewhat made up for by a strong turn from Vidalongo as a scientist, and by a tour de force performance as Hector by Karra Elejalde. It’s, again, hard to say why he’s so good without spoiling things – suffice to say that Hector goes through some pretty extreme changes during Timecrimes, and that Elejalde makes all of them feel real.

Timecrimes uses its small budget, its four cast members and its three settings ingeniously, resulting in a film that feels much larger in scale than it actually is. The ending may be a little abrupt for some tastes, but it’s also chilling, and lingers in the mind after the credits have gone by. All in all this is an excellent calling card for Nacho Vigalondo, and recommended viewing for horror fans.

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