What I'm Watching: Time Lapse
A lot of y'all probably don't know this, but there's actually quite a few things I love more than bad horror movies. One of those things is time travel stories. I have loved and been fascinated by the idea of time travel, of the philosophy behind it, the logic and rules the stories set up...yeah, I love time travel. In fact, in another quantum reality, I probably run a website where I review bad time travel movies.
So when I heard about Time Lapse, and saw it starred an occasional fave of mine with Danielle Panabaker, I knew this was a must-see movie on at least two fronts. Now, this isn't so much a time *travel* story, since nothing travels through time besides information, but it's a handy phrase to use. It's really a paradox story and time loops and causality and etc.
The plot revolves around a trio of friends, Jasper the betting addict, Finn the painter, and Finn's girlfriend, Callie the waitress and aspiring writer. One day, they discover their neighbour, an aging scientist, has died and left behind a gigantic, immovable device that is in actuality a camera. Oh, and that camera takes photos of tomorrow. It takes a photo every day at 8pm, and shows what is going to happen at 8pm the next day.
The trio are dubious of this, as anyone would be, upon just seeing a Polaroid of their apartment across the way. But events unfold, and they quickly come around to see that yes, this camera is indeed showing them the future.
Jasper immediately seizes on gambling, and sends himself race results from the next day, and Finn sees his easel filled with new paintings, and 'copies' them as inspiration. The bootstrap paradoxes here are many, yes.
As you can probably imagine, the betting goes horribly wrong and Jasper's bookie gets curious about his string of good luck. He learns about the time camera, uses it for his own money making purposes, and things just get worse and worse.
That's about the first half of the movie, and saying much more will get into spoilery territory, so I'll save that for later, because I *do* want to discuss some of that. Instead, for now, my thoughts!
I love this movie. Love, love, love it. As I said, I am a sucker for time mechanics stories, and this is a pretty inventive one, with a rarely used gimmick (I'd say unique, but there was that pesky Twilight Zone episode that the makers of the movie found out after they started making the film...). The rules are very strict, but very simple, and while the story ends up being pretty complex, its also fairly straightforward.
The mystery of what's going on unfolds well, and the noose wrapped around the characters tightens nicely as the movie moves forward. They are seduced by the power and knowledge the device gives them, and eventually find it difficult to impossible to escape its clutches, if they even want to.
Once the bookie is taken care of, Jasper descends into a bit of madness, what with having killed a guy, and things just get worse. The actor does a great job of becoming unhinged, and trying to hold on to things as his mind and life crumble around him as a result of his own actions. Or the actions of the camera. It's an interesting discussion to have there.
The events fracture the friendships, as well as secrets coming to light as the plot continues onward. Things eventually fall apart completely, leaving a far heftier body count than you might expect.
I really love that this is a nice, small scale thriller, that works on its own merits. This isn't an 'end of the world' scenario, the rules are simple and remain consistent and are used consistently throughout the movie. I am in awe at everything they had to keep track of, and managed to pull it off. Whomever was in charge of continuity probably had their head explode at least twice.
This is a story about the characters, thrust into extremely bizarre circumstances, and how they each deal with the events, and watching their story was thrilling, and how things played out.
And it all builds to a really great twist at the end, that I kinda saw coming, but not the exact details of it. There's a giant clue, right on the wall of Polaroids, and I wondered why no one in the movie openly questioned it, but they do make it clear that none of the three friends, or really anyone besides the scientist, could figure out how to alter the time the camera automatically took photos, or when it took photos of in the future.
But eventually it turns out that the girlfriend knew all along, from the very start of the movie, and was using the camera's ability to take photos at another time the other two did not know about, to manipulate things to her own advantage.
Finding that out, it's almost like watching the Sixth Sense, back when M. Knight's twists were great, and when you learned about them, they recast the entire movie into a whole other light. It makes the movie worth watching at least a second time, to see if they played fair with the audience, and let me tell you, they do. The leave little clues, and it is a testament to Panabaker's acting that she snuck in these tiny little looks that can be seen as one way the first time through, but another way entirely once you know that she knows more than she's letting on.
It also expands her character in such a great way. For most of the movie, the two guys have their own goals with the machine. Jasper is making money and feeding his addiction, and Finn is painting and feeling inspired once again. But Callie just feels like she's there to be the third character in the story, to be the girlfriend, and another voice. But once the twist occurs, you find out that her goal all along, goals you didn't know until that moment, is that she's using the machine to try and revive her stagnant relationship with Finn. It makes her a more well rounded character, and cements her place in the narrative as absolutely necessary.
I've seen a lot of poking holes in the plot, and I think a lot of it is on the one hand, people misinterpreting or just not understanding the plot mechanics, and on the other hand, just trying to find plot holes. I can explain away most of the holes, that aren't directly connected to paradoxes, because paradoxes are paradoxes.
I'm not going to turn this into a list of "Why there's nothing wrong with the plot" column, but if anyone has any questions, feel free to hit me up via email or whatever.
There is one big moment though, that confounded me, and I do want to address. At the end of the movie, Callie says that, once everything is going spectacularly wrong, and Finn finds out she's been lying and manipulating all this time, that all she has to do is send a message to herself to not get caught, and make things right by changing the past. Now, the movie has spent all this time showing events can't be changed, so there's a big question of "What?!" in everything she's saying. But Callie's not a super smart person. She's average. She's a waitress. She's not an expert in time travel stuff. It's not unreasonable to think that she *thinks* she's getting messages from herself after several tries to do the Right Things to get the results she wants. Also, at this point, she's killed a person or two, so she's cracking up a lot. She's no longer being rational and grasping at straws to save her friends and undo what she did. Even if it's not possible, she feels like she has to TRY. And ultimately, we don't know that she's not right, we only know what we've seen. There could easily be looping, recursion and more paradoxes we don't fully understand. I personally lean more towards her just not fully understanding what's going on, making wrong decisions, and/or becoming increasingly irrational. It's the simplest bunch of answers that don't completely alter the fundamental understandings of the plot.
So yeah, I could talk about these sorts of things FOREVER, but that gets out the biggest plot kerfuffle in my mind, and the one most important to the plot.
The movie has its flaws, being a little confounding, not being a huge story, and maybe some of the acting is weak, but on balance, I liked it. I enjoyed this being just a few characters, making these problems very personal and limiting things to not be time travel, but just information and manipulation of future events. The twist really worked for me, and this movie was just great on so many levels, especially for an indie, low budget flick. It may play out as a giant Twilight Zone episode, but that's fine, and the story they're telling fit the scale of the medium, IMO.
It easily blows Project Almanac out of the water, which went in almost the entirely opposite direction in almost all ways, and told a far less thrilling story, with a far larger budget.
If you're a fan of time travel (Or *whatever* you wanna call it) stories, this is an easy recommendation, or if you're a fan of thrillers. It comes in at just over an hour forty, and it was time well spent. Probably one of my top five movies this year, and likely going on my top ten or twenty all time favourite movies. Time Lapse was a near perfect time travel story that used its own rules very well, to develop interesting characters that kept me guessing what would happen next, even if I already knew what was coming.