A man sits in his yard with a pair of binoculars, scanning the bushes. What’s he looking for, you may ask? That question is never answered, but sure enough, he finds it. A woman, partly obscured by trees and whatnot, takes her clothes off. He goes to investigate – or something. Should he? Another unanswerable question. And yet, what happens, happens.
This somewhat strange opens “Timecrimes,” a movie about time machines and causal loops and terrible secrets and desperate acts. It will probably make your brain hurt to try to figure out exactly why the things happen the way they do in “Timecrimes,” but if you’re like me, a headache is small price to pay for a movie this enthralling. This is a small, tight, aggressive, obviously low-budget movie, with a cast of four and a running time that seems shorter than it actually is. It proceeds like a landslide, one thing right after another, except that usually, the another thing happened before the one thing did. Yup.
Director Nacho Vigalondo (who is one of the four actors, as well) knows that the best thrillers are the ones in which characters are left with few choices, and make the best ones they can. Our hero (Karra Elejalde) never does anything impossible (you know, besides traveling back in time,) or heroic in “Timecrimes;” he simply does what he needs to do in order to stay alive, or sane. Vigalondo’s flash of genius comes in realizing that time travel does not expand a character’s choices, but instead, limits them. Elejalde’s future actions are determined by the past, because they’ve already happened, and if he alters anything, he may affect his past self’s actions, which would result in him not ending up where he is, which, messed up as it is, is better than nowhere at all.
The ending of “Timecrimes” leaves quite a number of questions unanswered – Elejalde is going to have a heck of a time explaining what has just happened to his wife, let alone to the police – but really, it doesn’t matter. The ride was fun, the choices predetermined, and once he’s out of the loop, one wonders -and replays in the mind – whether there’s anything he could’ve done differently at all. Maybe he shouldn’t have been spying on the neighbors and left the naked woman alone in the first place.