Overview: Héctor (Karra Ejalde) is renovating his home with his wife (Candela Fernández). Looking into a nearby forest with binoculars, he spots what looks like the murder of a young woman. When he attempts to intervene, he inadvertently provokes an increasingly bizarre series of events, and finds that he will do anything to return to ordinary life. Karbo Vantas Entertainment; 2008; Rated R; 92 minutes.
Many Things At Once: Timecrimes is both very basic and extremely complicated. Though I will try to leave out the specifics as much as possible, it should be said up-front that this is a time travel movie. It offers an interesting twist on the concept, as Héctor effectively spends the movie trying to ensure his own timeline makes sense, while also driven by his own hubris to rectify any mistakes. What is refreshing is that this isn’t approached with the hard science of Primer or the action beats that a lot of science-fiction falls back on. Instead, Héctor becomes both the victim and the villain of his own slasher film. This doesn’t mean it lacks focus, as it barrels along its twisting plot in a tight 90-minutes without meandering. This is a movie that is all these things at once, and the way it navigates these genre conventions is exciting and unpredictable.
Voyeurism and Violence: Director and star Nacho Vigalondo was greatly inspired by the 70s Italian genre of “Giallo”. A straight definition of Giallo is a little hard to pin down, as it crosses the boundaries of the thriller, crime, mystery, and horror genres, and has had a heavy influence on the American Slasher films of the 80s and 90s. In more simple terms, they are typically low-budget tales that incorporate violence and eroticism.
Héctor is introduced to us as a bored, middle-aged man, sitting in an unfurnished room, with plastic sheets draped around the house, with boxes half-unpacked. It’s a picture of incomplete domesticity, and it’s from this that he looks outward with his binoculars into the outside world. If it weren’t for the eventual turn into the absurd, this could be an opening to an Alfred Hitchcock film. Chasing fantasies, propelled by his own voyeurism, Héctor becomes a Hitchcockian character.
Out of Time: There is a deliberately grainy, aged look to the film, and Vigalondo has noted that the drained colour palette and high contrast ratio was all part of an attempt to make Timecrimes look like it didn’t belong to any particular decade. If you watched it with no information on its release, you’d likely place it in the 70s, 80s, or 90s before you guessed 2008. Similarly, the score sounds like it is from this era, and would be at home in a John Carpenter movie, who was perhaps the king of blending science fiction with elements of horror, humour, and fear.
There are moments of absurd humour that arise from an increasingly jaded protagonist finding his surrounding occurrences to be ever more mundane, even as things spiral out of control. The scares are unfortunately played down while this self-aware black comedy is repeated to the point that certain scenes are robbed of their impact. Héctor isn’t the smartest character, but is simply reacting as an uninformed man would, and is thereby a great audience stand-in, as the viewer struggles to follow the plot and solve the problems the character faces. Vigalondo is the writer and director, a supporting character who is both orchestrator and victim of the events that unfold, and through his character and agency we are shown the consequences of voyeurism, that when you observe something it cannot be unseen.
Overall: Vigalondo’s genre mash-up feels like a film out of time, an undiscovered gem of a bygone era of filmmaking. It considers how much traumatic events can change us, and whether the person we were earlier in the day is truly the same as who we are now. While it has its flaws, Timecrimes is a strange, disturbing, but ultimately fascinating film that should be sought out.