Characters' inability to figure out their basic circumstances dooms the sci-fi conceit of 'Time Lapse'
Time Lapse XLrator Media
Director: Bradley King
Screenplay: Bradley King and BP Cooper
Starring: Matt O'Leary, Danielle Panabaker, George Finn, Jason Spisak, Amin Joseph and Sharon Maughan
Not rated / 1 hour, 44 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
You'd think the characters in Time Lapse would eventually get a handle on the whole "seeing into the future" thing. I mean, if anyone's going to understand the logic of it all, I'd expect it to be the people who get to experience it on a daily basis. Practice: it's how you get to Carnegie Hall, and it's how you figure out what to do when a magical camera starts spitting out daily Polaroids of your living room from 24 hours into the future.
The most aggravating thing about the way this movie handles that premise is that none of the characters have even the slightest understanding of how causality works. Which wouldn't be so bad, if only their behavior - their reaction to this impossible device that has dropped into their laps - weren't the entire driving force of the narrative. They all seem trapped by the screenplay's limitations - of ambition or of intellect, or both - as they scramble to take advantage of their newfound foresight in as clumsy a way as possible.
I don't need to agree with my movie characters' actions. I don't require them to make good decisions. I don't judge them on the basis of what I think they should do. I don't need them to be smart. But when day after day goes by, with the same three people indulging the same concept over and over again, the fact that a certain basic idea never sinks in - or that a certain elementary question never gets asked - goes from a minor logical annoyance to a fatal storytelling flaw. To put it simply: These three idiots never seem to consider the likelihood that seeing a snapshot of their future directly impacts (or wholly causes) the creation of that future.
Worse yet, they continue to behave as if the exact opposite is true. Here's how it works: in the apartment window directly opposite theirs sits the time-traveling camera (or whatever you want to call it). Each night at 8 p.m., it spits out a photo of the following night at 8 p.m. The trio - struggling artist Finn (Matt O'Leary), his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and their roommate Jasper (George Finn) - decide to use this device to their advantage, and through some shaky logic, conclude that, in order for the machine to keep working, they have to make sure to recreate the new photo, to ensure that they're not altering the timeline in any way.
So: Each night at 8, they basically pose for a photo that they've already seen in advance. And yet they keep asking themselves (and each other) questions about what led up to the events in the photograph. Like, "Why are Jasper and Callie kissing on the couch?" or "Why did Finn paint a skull-and-crossbones?" The obvious (and, really, only) answers, in order, are, Because Jasper and Callie deliberately sat on the couch and kissed to match the future photo and Because Finn saw a painting of a skull-and-crossbones and copied it to match the future photo. And so forth. Each photo is staged ... and they're all conscious of that fact ... and yet they seem unable to actually process or acknowledge it.
The cognitive dissonance is astounding. Every day they go along, intricately staging their big 8:00 tableau, and yet they sit around speculating and arguing about what chain of events caused this, this and this to happen. It never crosses their minds that - DUH - the chain of events that caused the moment in each photo was them seeing the photo and purposefully creating that moment. It is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy, and yet instead they treat it like they're playing catch-up to some imaginary alternate timeline.
It would be like getting the answers to a test in advance, acing it, and then wondering why you got all the answers right.
While director/co-writer Bradley King fails in his approach to the sci-fi conceit, he does a somewhat better job creating complications for the story around it, so the film is always watchable. Jasper, for example, is a lightly degenerate gambler (as degenerate as a twentysomething without much cash flow can be), and his not-so-nice bookie (Jason Spisak) becomes involved. Then there's the lingering issue of the death of their neighbor, Mr. Bezzerides (John Rhys-Davies, whose scenes were cut), who created the camera in the first place and left detailed notebooks explaining his research. (It's just a pity that, for all the explanations and rules he lays out in his notes, he never thought to explain the very basics of linear causation. But I digress.)
Time Lapse gets marginally more interesting in its final act, if only because King and co-writer BP Cooper tweak the idea just enough that it offers something a bit more intellectually intriguing than what we get for most of the film. Still, it's a case of too little, too late.
Movies dealing with complex or theoretical material like this have built-in intrigue just because there are so many ways to go conceptually - and a limitless number of interpretations. For movies like this, questionable internal logic is almost unavoidable. But the good ones always at least give you a sense that the filmmakers kinda know what they're doing with it. There's a baseline intelligence they're working with. And that, above all, is what Time Lapse is missing. It never seems smart enough to handle its own subject.