When you watch a time travel movie, it’s easy to sit back and imagine the ways that you could use such technology to your own advantage, and how you would avoid the pitfalls and traps that always ensnare the characters on screen. In Time Lapse, when a trio of friends stumble across a camera that takes pictures 24-hours into the future, they set about doing exactly this, and they don’t fare any better than their predecessors. Along with movies like Primer and Safety Not Guaranteed, these low-budget, idea-driven sci-fi movies are becoming staples and film festivals, and I am totally okay with this, at least as long as they’re as good as Time Lapse.
Finn (Matt O’Leary from Spy Kids, which makes me happier than it reasonably should) is a frustrated painter who had bigger dreams for his life than working as a glorified toilet repairman in an apartment complex. He lives with his oft-ignored girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker), who mothers him, putting his own needs in front of her own, and his gambling-addicted best bro Jasper (George Finn). When they check on an elderly neighbor (played by John Rhys-Davies, who only appears in photographs), they discover him dead, and a massive camera that peers into the future pointed at their apartment.
Instead of calling the police, the friends rationalize putting the massive contraption to good use. Jasper employs their new tool to get the winners of the dog races he bets on, while Finn copies the finished paintings he sees in the photographs, and everything is great. If you guessed that things don’t stay that way forever, you are correct. It doesn’t take long before the camera starts spitting out unpleasant images, things that cause them to turn on each other and lead them into situations far beyond their control.
Time Lapse takes its time developing the burgeoning conflict. At first the good outweighs the bad, they can deal, but things gradually spiral until they can’t keep them well in hand. The script from first time feature director Bradley King and co-writer BP Cooper, is meticulous in turning the screws and dropping hints along the way, letting the conflict simmer, and increasing the tension at steady, deliberate pace.
All three of the primary actors are fantastic, and their strong performances only accentuate this slow build. Loyalties between Finn, Callie, and Jasper are fluid, turning as their circumstances get worse and worse. Over time, their mental states deteriorate as they become more and more entangled in the inescapable circle of time and consequences. These are people with long, complicated histories with one another, each with their own hidden skeletons, and that comes through in a natural way. A layer of menace makes you legitimately wonder, and care, if and how these kids are going to make it out.
In the direction, setting, and build up, you’ll notice notes of Hitchcock and De Palma. Time Lapse begins with an ominous string piece reminiscent Bernard Hermann, and while the film borrows from the masters, it definitely does its own thing. The action and story keep you tilted forward towards the screen, but it is punctuated by a dark gallows humor that can relieve the tension for a moment, while increasing the pressure at others.
Time Lapse uses what it has to great affect. You never experience the world outside the courtyard of the apartments—the one time you do look out, it is through a steel gate that resembles the bars of a prison, which only reaffirms the characters are trapped in multiple ways. Though there are some specious logistical jumps—you’re not entirely sure that all of the circles link up properly, and they accept the central conceit without any questions—it all feels something like a well-executed Twilight Zone episode.
Time Lapse is a fun, tight thriller that uses both its resources and limitations to its advantage. Continually building over 104-minute run time, this is quick, but not rushed. This is the kind of film that, when you watch a second time, you’ll definitely notice the breadcrumb trail King and Cooper leave to lead you through. The film just staged a North American premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival, and there is a distribution deal in the works. While it may not quite reach the level of those thematically similar films I mentioned earlier, Time Lapse is definitely a one to keep your eyes on. And if nothing else, you’ll walk away having learned an important lesson: don’t fuck with time.