Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Bradley King
Writer: Bradley King, B.P. Cooper
Producer: B.P. Cooper, Rick Montgomery
Stars: Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak, Sharon Maughan, David Figlioli, Judith Drake
Three roommates discover a camera that can take photos of the future, and become caught in a spiral of ensuring that their timeline is never altered.
With newspapers piling up on the doorstep, and the occupant not seen in days, building manager Finn enters the apartment across the courtyard with his girlfriend Callie and their buddy Jasper. What they discover is that their missing neighbor Mr. Bezzerides might have been more than just an eccentric scientist. He might have been a Peeping Tom. Bolted to the floor and pointed directly at their own living room window is an automobile-sized experimental camera. And lining the walls are hundreds of Polaroid photographs depicting the trio on the couch going about their average, everyday lives.
The three friends/roommates come to learn that the camera is somehow capable of taking pictures from 24 hours in the future. Jasper sees dollar signs and immediately uses the machine to their advantage by pulling the next day’s horseracing results ahead of time. But after finding Mr. Bezzerides’ journal, and his strangely deformed corpse in the storage room, they realize that Fate has a way of choking the life from those who deviate from destiny. After an infuriated bookie comes sniffing about, the threesome soon finds themselves caught in a snowballing trap of ensuring that their lives always meet back exactly where the camera predicts, no matter what.
It may be a familiar springboard for a story, but it is what “Time Lapse” does with the telling that truly matters. Make a space on your shelf right between “Timecrimes” (review here) and “Primer.” “Time Lapse” is a devilishly conceived and expertly executed suspense thriller that takes an unbelievable time paradox premise, and makes it palatable by playing out everything after in completely believable fashion.
“Time Lapse” is an endlessly spiraling head-spinner, but the brilliance in its structure is that for all the turns it takes, the twists never steal the spotlight from convincing characters and their spellbinding story. You may be able to guess parts of the ultimate outcome, but envisioning all of the puzzle pieces ahead of time is virtually impossible.
None of the story beats exist to prove how clever the screenwriters are, or to deliberately outsmart the audience. Everything is played in service to the story. When people discuss “The Usual Suspects,” the true identity of Keyser Soze is the chief talking point. “The Crying Game” can be reductively described as “the woman is really a man” or “The Sixth Sense” as “Bruce Willis is actually a ghost.” “Time Lapse” is every bit as much of a shocker, but it is not a film that anyone will describe by its final reveal and ending. This is a movie about the complete experience.
Bezzerides’ camera is a whirligig apparatus of ridiculous proportions. Built from buzzes, bulbs, and bulky metal parts, the contraption looks like something likely to give you tetanus if touched in the wrong place. Devoid of LED readouts and digital beeps, the retro look of analog components and Polaroid printouts amplifies an otherworldly “Twilight Zone” vibe, appropriately so.
Each hum of the machine comes with increased anticipation of what the next photograph is about to reveal. And not because the image is the punchline, but because it is the setup for what is certain to be the next suspenseful vignette. “Time Lapse” literally tells you what will happen next, but the thrill is in discovering exactly how everyone comes to that point and what it actually means.
For those interested in subtext beyond its high entertainment value, “Time Lapse” doubles as a compelling metaphor about becoming slaves to an idea in pursuit of a life you think you are supposed to have. The main actors mesh incredibly well with their roles and with each other. Connecting to each one of them concurrently makes the film highly relatable as a paranoia parable about behavior corrupted by misguided notions and ideals.
If I have one complaint, it is that “Time Lapse” should have ended right after the final sheet of paper falls from the window. I grinned instantly and my mind immediately imagined Callie in the police interrogation room the following day, racking her brain to figure out why her present hadn’t changed. Some ambiguity about the conclusion would have kept the timeline possibilities swirling in audience imaginations, although those in favor of finality will have their firm resolution.
“Time Lapse” satisfies on every level. As a character-driven drama. As a sci-fi social allegory. And as a smartly-scripted, deftly-delivered piece of mindbending entertainment. Never was there a single second when I wasn’t completely enrapt by the story, the actors, and every individual event transpiring onscreen. “Time Lapse” is high concept fun that leads the pack as the best suspense thriller of the year.
Review Score: 95