[Trailer (not too-too spoilery) for Time Lapse]
Here in post-Hermine North Florida, over the last couple days we’ve relished the chance to rediscover the small pleasures of civilized life. Surely among the least consequential of such pleasures, we can count the discovery of recent films we had added to our streaming watchlist(s), and then promptly forgot. 2014’s Time Lapse, director Bradley King’s debut feature, falls into that category for me.
The genre: science-fiction/thriller. Sub-genre: low to modestly budgeted.
It presents a sort of time-travel scenario, except that no people (or animals, inanimate objects, or anything else) actually travel in time. Here, the central conceit is that some kind of metaphorical line can be cast into the future, and brought back to the present with a bit of reality firmly caught on the hook…
I’m guessing about the film’s budget, based on these observations:
- There’s scarcely anything like a special effect or green-screen CGI in evidence. (The closest thing may be the very basic opening titles sequence, and maybe you can count the exotic prop to which I’ll introduce you in a moment.)
- The action takes place in a very limited number of settings: a rented room; the rented room across a sidewalk; a storage facility (mostly a single storage locker there).
- All dialogue and action is performed by a vaguely familiar but nothing like “big name” youthful cast, almost entirely consisting of three actors. (The only one I recognized by name was Danielle Panabaker. John Rhys-Davies has a very small cameo role, but I had to read about the film afterward to know it was him.)
A quick plot overview, emphasis on spoiler-avoidance:
The time is roughly present-day. A young man, named Finn, works as “building manager” (read: janitor in residence) for a small complex of small rental apartments. He shares his own apartment with his girlfriend Callie (an aspiring writer, sort of) and his best friend Jasper (an unemployed but fitfully “flush” gambler, specializing in greyhound racing).
While investigating (on behalf of the complex’s owner) an elderly tenant who seems to have gone missing, the trio discover in his apartment a very strange and mysterious object (shown at right; click for a larger version). While they watch, the device suddenly clicks and whirs, and from a slot dispenses one of those old Polaroid-style instant photos.
(Indeed, they discover a cache of unexposed Polaroid film cartridges in the apartment, and one entire wall is taken up by exposed photos, apparently having been mounted there by the missing tenant.)
Because this “camera” is huge and bolted to the floor, it always photographs the same subject, from the same angle, over and over, at 24-hour intervals. But after the shutter clicks — flashing that green glow just once — the image that comes out depicts that subject as it will exist in 24 hours.
It’s an interesting premise — a sort of technology-based clairvoyance. And because they come to believe that the image captured should depict things as they will (and not just may) be, their task becomes not to change the future, but to guarantee that it comes to pass exactly as shown…
Aside from the general premise, I most appreciated that the plot remained unpredictable and surprising for me right up until the very end. (About a third of the way into the film, I decided I knew how it was going to develop. I could not have been more wrong — and the film allowed me to be wrong almost all the way to the conclusion.)
So why just a “near-miss” film? This may not even qualify as a quibble, but the plot hinges on something which the characters notice, but fail to follow up on. I noticed it at the same time, in fact.
Yet (a) the screenwriters skillfully managed to divert my attention from this significant factoid, and (b) one of the characters, it happens, did follow up on it. So maybe “near-miss” is a stingy adjective after all. Time Lapse may not be a “great” film — not a blockbuster, not a film likely to resonate through motion-picture history. But it was a consistently watchable and well-crafted movie. The gods know, we can always use more of those, too.