Time travel movies are either extremely self-serious or expectedly goofy. Sci-fi films such as Looper and Predestination are dark action films that use time travel to save the world. Comedies such as Groundhog Day and series such as Russian Doll force the protagonists to confront their nasty ways, but through comedic encounters and over-the-top gags. This is why Jon Mikel Caballero’s feature film debut, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, stands out. It is a deeply emotional and introspective film about time travel and what you can do on borrowed time.
Alba (Iria del Río) is a party girl who just turned 30 and refuses to take life seriously. She lives with her dad, goes out drinking every night, enjoys a line of coke every now and then, and is persistently hungover. She is self-absorbed and unwilling to let go of her youth, which is intensely relatable. She takes a group of friends and her boyfriend Pablo (Adam Quintero) to her family’s country house where they can spend the night partying. Each friend seems just slightly more grown-up than Alba, with established careers or at least some idea of what they want from life. As Alba drinks the night away and refuses to think past that night, her boyfriend suddenly breaks up with her, stating that she never listens and only does what she deems acceptable.
“a deeply emotional and introspective film about time travel and what you can do on borrowed time.”
The next morning, surrounded by a haze of stale liquor and heartbreak, Alba wanders into the woods. She follows a stream through the ruins of an old factory and experiences a brief pause in time. Birds stop flying, the stream stops flowing, everything goes silent. Then, just as quickly as it all stopped, everything regains movement. Confused, Alba heads back to the house and gets ready to leave. However, just as they’re on their way home, time loops back to their arrival. Alba discovers she is stuck in a time loop that grows one hour shorter with each subsequent restart. In these dwindling hours, Alba grows to realize her own flaws and with her limited time, desperately tries to fix the damage she has wrought.
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Alba’s character is both extremely unlikeable and painfully relatable. She is the embodiment of the fear of adulthood and the defense mechanisms we use to hide our anxieties. Sure, she has money and can host her friends for a fun weekend, but she is selfish, rude, and stubborn. Alba never wants her twenties to end and does not want to confront the realities of independence and compromise. But, through each of the time loops, Alba slowly begins to realize the bubble she’s been living in. She realizes how little she talks to her boyfriend and friends, how little time she takes to listen to them. And yet, it all feels too late. Can she really undo the damage that years of destructive friendships can cause? The film doesn’t give a definitive answer, but instead relishes in her desperation and her moments of introspection and subsequent growth.
The Incredible Shrinking Wknd’s setting plays a crucial role in establishing the film’s tone. The woods surrounding the vacation home are full of browns and greens, but they are not vibrant. Rather, they are muted, almost hazy, making the setting feel removed from time and space. As Alba and her friends wander through the woods, it seems like they are wandering through a dream. Synth music played over these moments intensify this dream-like atmosphere, creating almost an anachronistic soundtrack for a film that seems so solidly set in our current moment. The hazy woods and electronic music make you feel like you yourself are floating through time along with Alba. There is a strange weightlessness to this film that is both freeing and anxiety-inducing.
An incredible and subtle technique used throughout The Incredible Shrinking Wknd is the gradual shrinking of the size of the film’s frame. It is almost unnoticeable at first, but slowly the images onscreen become more and more confined to smaller boxes. It forces the viewer to really focus on what they can see and better appreciate those images; they must savor them before they eventually vanish. This editing choice incorporates the audience into the film’s stakes. It is not just Alba who is experiencing vanishing time, but the audience as well. It also speaks to the experience of even just watching movies and the minutes ticking down until it ultimately ends.
“There is a strange weightlessness […] that is both freeing and anxiety-inducing.”
The Incredible Shrinking Wknd is an ode to the quarter-life crisis, a time where you are no longer a young adult but still feel like you’re floating through life, unsure of what direction you’re heading. Caballero uses sci-fi tropes to create an emotional and beautiful film about trying to solve your deep-seated issues on borrowed time. This is a film I want to show some of my friends in an attempt to say, “I love you, I get it, but we need to keep moving forward however we can.” Caballero takes the melancholic mindset of millennials, puts in a dreamy forest, sets it to some synth music, and lets the viewer float through time.
Jon Mikel Caballero’s The Incredible Shrinking Wknd celebrated it’s US premiere at the 2019 North Bend Film Festival August 15 as the festival’s Opening Night Film. The 2019 North Bend Film Festival runs until August 18. Check out our full coverage of the festival HERE and let us know if you’re excited to see The Incredible Shrinking Wknd on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!