Given a bargain-basement budget, it is very brave and/or foolish director who opts to make a time travel thriller. Hats off, then, to Spanish actor/writer/director Nacho Vigalondo who has made a pretty good stab with this, his feature-length debut.

When Hector drives back to his wife and house for a bit of lie down after work, little does he know that there will be tears - and quite a lot worse - before bedtime. After an odd phonecall and a chance sighting of a woman stripping off in the woods, he decides to investigate further. But the sudden appearance of a bandaged madman brandishing a pair of scissors sends him running for the hills ... and a time machine which transports him back a short hop into the past, leading him into increasingly desperate acts to try to restore the status quo.

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Given the budget restrictions, there's no place for flashy effects here, but this doesn't get in the way of belief. The time machine set up recalls the chunky types of contraptions seen in much older science fiction and the conceit of time travel relies almost entirely on an excellent central performance from Karra Elejalde, perfectly cast as Hector.

His bumbling, innocent abroad evokes an odd type of sympathy, even as you realise he is becoming the master of his own problems. The choice of an older man as its protagonist lends his confusion and anguish an extra weight. Although not relying heavily on dialogue once the action gets going - and where changing persepectives of the action are what are important - the early scripting is smart and sharp, in particular that between the hapless Hector and his wife Clara (Candela Fernández). They are perfectly believable as your average couple of long-standing who, for reasons of sanity, have long-since ceased to listen to everything that the other says.

By keeping the dialogue sparse through the rest of the movie, Vigalondo avoids the dangers of the sort of sci-fi exponential dialogue that has seen many a film sacrifice pace in favour of particulars. By trusting the audience to be well-versed in the genre tropes - don't mess with things that have already happened and under no circumstances meet yourself - he keeps things moving at such a pace you barely have time to ponder the movie's occasional failings.

The budget definitely has limitations, not least the incredibly fast coming of nightfall, and one or two leaps of faith are required to believe that Hector, rather than running back to his house on encountering a mummified monster, would turn on his heel and end up in a top secret compound. Although many of the twists and turns of the story can be guessed quite early on, they are, in some, ways all the more enjoyable for that and Vigalondo impressively combines thriller, dark comedy and even slapstick elements without making things feel forced.

Although occasionally teetering on the brink of pastiche, the central exploration of the lengths Mr Average would go to in order to restore an equilibrium is a good one and if one or two of the twists require you to suspend disbelief, at least Vigalondo has the audacity to keep them coming. It may not be flashy but there are flashes of cleverness sparkling throughout.

There are rumours of a Hollywood remake by United Artists - and it's possible that, for once, this could be a good thing. With a little more polish, the closing of a couple of loopholes - and a fraction more cash - it could be a real cinematic gem.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2008
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When a man accidentally travels back in time, he finds restoring the status quo is easier said than done. Plus read our exclusive interview with director Nacho Vigalondo.
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Keith Hennessey Brown ****

Director: Nacho Vigalondo

Writer: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga, Juan Inciarte

Year: 2007

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Spain


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