In this monthly column, I’ll spotlight a horror movie from a country outside the United States that has flown under the radar. The goal is to showcase the talents of horror filmmakers around the world and make sure their voices don’t go unheard.
MOVIE: TIMECRIMES (2008)
WATCH IF YOU LIKE: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WKND, COHERENCE, TIME TRAVEL, EXISTENTIAL DREAD
There are two types of time travel movies: the kind where the characters willingly travel through time and the kind where the characters are thrown into time travel chaos. Nacho Vigalondo’s (Colossal) 2008 film Timecrimes is the latter, a melancholy tale of a man trying to escape the inevitable and slowly realizing he cannot escape a time loop.
In Timecrimes, Hector (Karra Elejalde) and his wife, Clara (Candela Fernández) are in the process of moving into a huge country home where they can relax. Clara even tells Hector that she loses time there as it is so beautiful. As they sit together and investigate their surroundings, Hector spots a woman undressing in the woods. He watches further and becomes fascinated with what she’s doing out there. But in his nosy investigation, he discovers a murder scene and man with a face covered in blood-soaked bandages. As he tries to escape, he is lured into a time machine by a lone scientist (Vigalondo) at a secluded lab not far from Hector’s home. Hector is unknowingly thrown back a few hours into the past, kickstarting a chaotic and rather sad journey through time.
As with most time travel movies, Hector realizes that strange events of his past were caused by future versions of himself. A weird phone call from the beginning of the film was Hector calling himself. A destroyed dumpster found on the side of the road was caused by Hector crashing into it. Everything has a logical (perhaps that is the wrong word here) explanation that the audience can see from a mile away. But what truly matters is that Hector doesn’t. He is bumbling through time, trying to piece the situation together. While the audience may be familiar with time travel films, Hector sure isn’t which makes this all the more tragic. We flinch as Hector fulfills the next step instead of avoiding it. He is so determined in his attempts to beat the path that has been laid before him. But in that determination is still inevitability. He cannot escape the fate time has decided for him.
“…Timecrimes is […] a melancholy tale of a man trying to escape the inevitable and slowly realizing he cannot escape a time loop.“
Inevitability was discussed at length with the release of Ari Aster’s feature film debut, Hereditary. Fans of the film know how terrifying it is to have your whole life laid out in front of you with no escape. Timecrimes investigates that scenario fourfold as four versions of Hector seem to be crossing very predicted paths at any given time. While I have described the Timecrimes as chaotic, there is an underlying order to that chaos, which is arguably more terrifying than the prospect of time travel itself.
Timecrimes illustrates a beautiful juxtaposition between nature and technology that runs throughout the entire film. This tension is everywhere within the production design as lush green woods surround the characters. Hector’s home is nestled within the woods, and hidden in the trees is the laboratory. Their sharp angles and manmade materials jut out of the ground and interrupt the natural world, just as Hector juts into different timelines and interrupts reality. Nature in Timecrimes is a luscious constant, a reminder as green reflects on characters’ skin that they are small within the grand scheme of the world. No matter how much humans try to disrupt the flow of time, nature will remain the same, a great watcher of humanity’s folly.
As if production design wasn’t enough to make this point, Timecrimes’ sound design also makes sure to portray the omnipresence of the natural world. In Hector’s house and in the surrounding woods, the sound of birds, bugs, and frogs drones in the background. Even as the score enters into a scene, there is still an undercurrent of the sounds of nature. They are a marker of the inevitability. No matter what Hector does or how he does it, there is nothing he can do to stop these events. He is just one human, a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. Vigalondo’s use of sound portrays such a nihilistic fact as the birds never stop singing.
The woods are used as the setting for another Spanish language time travel film, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd. In both films, the woods serve as a cradle for people to stumble through their strange lives. Trees stand tall, greenery stretches as far as the eye can see, and humans look like intruders in that space. As time ticks away, each protagonist is trying to find a way to get ahead of the clock, of the natural progression of time. But the natural world just watches and sways in the breeze, an unchanging setting that serves as a silent reminder of the characters’ true place in the world.
“No matter how much humans try to disrupt the flow of time, nature will remain the same, a great watcher of humanity’s folly.“
There is a deep sense of nihilism in Timecrimes as Hector slowly realizes that no matter what he does, he will inevitably follow the path of the Hector that came before him. The frenetic energy that pushed him forward at the film’s beginning fades into a slowly limp towards home. He has been beaten, stabbed, and concussed by time and he can’t fight it anymore. His actions become robotic as he does what he knows he has to do. There is nothing left for him other than compliance.
Timecrimes, in its action and sci-fi elements, tells a story about how we can never truly outrun time. There is no escaping whatever our fate may be and we just have to go along for the ride. Time waits for no one and no matter what science thinks it can do, nature will always come out triumphant. Timecrimes is about more than just chaotic science; it is about the realization of what it takes to restore the natural order of things.