It seems like whenever characters venture into the woods in Spanish cinema, bad things happen. Perhaps that is just because so many of the Spanish films recently released in America have been horror movies. While technically time-travel science fiction, Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes shares many of the conventions of movie macabre, including those deep, dark woods. Opening tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles, it is the third and strongest installment so far in Magnet Releasing’s Six Shooter series of international genre films.
Hector’s life is not too bad. He has a comfortable relationship with his wife and a lovely new house in the country, sitting picturesquely on the edge of a verdant forest. Nature watching through his binoculars, Hector catches a glimpse of a topless woman. That gets his attention. Hector delves into the forest to investigate, only to take a pair of scissors in the shoulder from a maniac with a bandaged head. Pursued by the lunatic, Hector is guided by the caretaker of a nearby scientific facility into a heavily reinforced mystery chamber. When he emerges, he has traveled several hours back in time. Soon thereafter, Hector suffers a head injury in a freak accident. As he administers first aid, wrapping gauze bandages around his head and pocketing the scissors, things start getting interesting.
Timecrimes is a devilishly clever movie, best seen cold. Even the trailer gives away too much, which makes it a tricky picture to review, so proceed at your own risk. In addition to its head-spinning time games and creepy chills, Vigalondo also raises some surprisingly philosophical questions. As the various Hectors proliferate through frequent time travel their collective actions lead inexorably to murder. Yet in each separate time frame, he is simply responding to the predetermined events unfolding around him. How culpable is Hector (any Hector) for the actions of his various selves?
As Timecrimes concludes, it feels like the film should be riddled with gaping plot holes, but Vigalondo and editor Jose Luis Romeu flawlessly hide the seams. Romeu in particular, deserves credit for perfectly fitting together the perspectives of each new Hector with those previously established. Karra Elejalde is fantastic as the weary middle-aged protagonist, subtly shading each of his character’s materializations. Director Vigalondo also appears in a supporting role, appropriately playing the caretaker—the man who sets all the chaos in motion through his unauthorized use of the time machine.
While Vigalondo maintains a breakneck pace throughout Timecrimes, the film holds up to deliberate post-screening scrutiny. It is probably the best genre film of the year and the strongest time travel movie in years. Highly recommended, it opens today in select cities.