Budding filmakers take note; if you want to learn how to deliver a smart, engaging thriller on a shoestring budget you'd do well to watch Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo's head-spinning Timecrimes. It's a taut, clever and extremely well-made indie sci-fi that understands how brevity is the soul of wit.
Hector (Karra Elejalde) and his wife (Candela Fernández) have recently moved to the Spanish countryside. Alone for the afternoon, Hector spies a naked beauty in the woods with his binoculars. Intrigued, he investigates, and is soon stabbed in the arm by a strange man wrapped in pink bandages. Fleeing to the nearest shelter, he stumbles upon a research laboratory where a young technician convinces him to hide inside an immense machine. When he emerges, it's an hour earlier, and Hector sees himself in the distance, sending his wife out for errands while he scans the woods with his binoculars. Time has doubled back on itself and he quickly learns that his every action has an inescapable reaction. Vigalondo sucks you into a sinister game of temporal dominos, as Hector struggles to alter his fate. But no matter what the poor shlub does, his life is twisted into one complication after another.
Built for speed and suspense, the 88-minute Timecrimes doesn't have any profound thematic ambitions or grand statements about fate and memory, contenting itself instead with a corkscrew plot and stylish thrills. Vigalondo is a smart and efficient filmmaker, opening his low-key suspenser with a droll bit of foreshadowing — Hector spills a messy trail of purchased goods along his driveway — and following up with a voyeuristic creepiness that recalls Antonioni's Blow-Up.
The four-hander cast is strong, with Elejalde impressing as the doltish but sympathetically beleaguered Hector. Even Vigalondo acquits himself admirably as the lab tech who turns poor Hector's world upside down (another clever bit of meta-messaging?).
Timecrimes is the kind of movie that will seem very familiar to fans of Philip K. Dick while blowing minds of anyone foolish enough to drop a tab of acid before viewing. For the rest of us, Vigalondo's Twilight Zone-ish thriller is a model of modest but fast-paced entertainment. Predictably, Hollywood has slated an English-language remake for 2011.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March 13-14, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 15. It also shows at 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March 20-21, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 22. Call 313-833-3237 for more information.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.