Friday, August 12, 2016

Lapse, in My Judgment

Across the internet, you can find more than a few lists of "little known sci-fi movies you can stream on Netflix." One such list is how I heard of the movie Time Lapse, a 2014 indie that was sold as "Primer meets Shallow Grave." I took especial interest in this movie, because its slightly more detailed synopsis seemed superficially similar to a novel that a dear friend of mine has been trying to get published for years. Were there actual similarities here, and any hope/encouragement I could give my friend by watching the film?

Time Lapse follows three young adults sharing an apartment: dating couple Finn and Callie, and Finn's best friend Jasper. When the mysterious tenant across the street goes missing, they enter his apartment and discover an enormous contraption bolted to the floor: a giant camera, pointed straight at their front window, that takes a picture once a day... of what will transpire 24 hours in the future. What starts out as a fun and exploitable gift soon becomes a confusing and disturbing curse -- the images become increasingly strange, promising a twisted, upsetting future.

By this point in my review, my friend with the novel definitely knows I was talking about him. So let me briefly set his mind at ease: any similarities to this film are incredibly superficial. Time Lapse did not beat you to the punch as you were struggling to find a publisher for your long-finished work. And as this film never saw a theatrical release (wide or limited), it's fair to say it too has struggled in finding its audience. (Someday, when you succeed and publish your book, I can use my blog's exceedingly minimal reach to send readers your way. For now, I can only point a few eyeballs toward this movie.)

Though Time Lapse has a science fiction gimmick, the movie is essentially a thriller that leverages dangerous knowledge against the characters. For reasons explained early on in the film, they all believe that the future they see in these photos cannot be altered. So the resulting suspense isn't about attempting to avoid the unpleasant, it's about coming to terms with it. How will these future visions come to pass, and how much deeper will the rabbit hole go?

The three actors in the lead roles are effective to varying degrees. Most convincing, I think, is Danielle Panabaker as Callie. I can imagine this movie being the thing that got the casting director's attention over on the TV series The Flash, where she now stars as Caitlin Snow. Panabaker walks the line between vulnerability and agency quite well, with the character feeling swept up in events and responsible for them in turns. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I'd previously seen Matt O'Leary, who plays Finn. When I finally looked it up, I realized why I hadn't been able to place him -- I'd last seen him as a child actor, giving an absolutely riveting performance in Frailty. His work here as an adult isn't nearly as potent, but he still serves the movie well. It's the last leg of the triangle, George Finn as Jasper, who is the weakest of the three. His character exhibits the wildest behavior in the film overall, and I think his performance gets a bit superficial in presenting an emerging, somewhat generic "madness."

That said, I feel like maybe the script itself lets the actors down just a bit in the final act. There's a steady progression of twists and revelations that are mostly quite satisfying, but the final scene turns on a sudden, unearned change in behavior by one of the characters. Hopefully without getting too specific, this character suddenly stops believing in specific rules that have governed the entire story thus far. I'm on the fence about whether the motive that's offered up is convincing enough to justify the change.

Still, Time Lapse is a fun movie at all, a clever example of low-budget indie filmmaking. I give it a B+.

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