PLOT: A group of independent scientists successfully create a time machine and send one of their own a single hour into the future. When the man arrives, he finds the entire crew dead as Dillinger. What gives?
REVIEW: Following a near decade long directorial respite (PUMPKINHEAD 4) and a couple years toiling around in television (Femme Fatales), writer/director Michael Hurst finally hops back in the saddle to bring us PARADOX, a movie that boasts a highly admirable premise that unfortunately, like most time travel yarns made on a miniscule budget, lacks convincing execution and ultimately amounts to little more than a nonsensical, brain-scrambling blunderbuss. The movie at once wants to be an FX driven sci-fi thriller, a countdown the clock real-time action joint, a slasher whodunit, and in the end, a mano y mano Zoe Bell fight flick. Parts of each work in spots, the murder mystery element in particular, but together the varying aspects never quite congeal as a satisfying whole. A shame, as the notion of a time-travel slasher flick really does appeal on the page. But as we all know, futzing with the temporal loop always brings about an implausibly told PARADOX!
Project 880 is the name of a top secret program headed by a coterie of independent scientists. No governmental ties. In fact, the NSA putatively despises what they do. The crew, headed by Jim (Adam Huss) and Gale (Zoe Bell), have successfully created a large time-travel machine that sort of resembles an electric wedding altar...circular, pillared, strobe-lit. Hearing of this, a powerful scientist named Dr. Landau (Malik Yoba) is brought in to test the viability of the machine and advise the crew on how to proceed. But here's the quandary. When Jim is sent a single hour into the future, he finds everyone in the lab gorily dispatched. Worse yet, a CC feed reveals a killer on the premises - adorned almost identically the killer in MY BLOODY VALENTINE, black garb, gas mask, etc. - skulking around with large hunting knife. So, as the only line of recourse, Jim travels back in time one hour to warn his fellow crewmates that in 60 minutes time, they'll all be dead as doornails. It then becomes a ticking-clock scenario of trying to vet and suss who among the crew is the killer, why they're doing so, and quash the motherf*cker for good.
Here's where things grow a bit knotty though. Mention is made of a millionaire scientist named Steven Devlin, who in the 2029, makes a financial fortune from the time-machine he created. A machine similar to the one this crew has manufactured, but without the brain-damaging glitches. This Devlin dude perfects the technology, yet in some venal, overly-confounding BACK TO THE FUTURE II subplot (the almanac), Devlin has travelled back in time to 2015 in order to have a preliminary machine built. The logic being, if there's no time-travel now, there could never be so in the future. It's here where the film succumbs to the inherent paradoxes of time-travel flicks, stodgy exposition, pseudoscience and the like. Honestly, there's no less than twice that an actual character breaks the dialogue to complain about pulse-pounding headaches that come about in trying to explain and understand all the scientific jargon. It's here where the script gets bogged down with unintelligible dialogue that does no favors for the actors, where the more you think about what's being explicated, the less sense it at all makes. Again, this kind of comes with the territory of time travel, but given the semi-original premise of a slasher whodunit framed as a real-time travel thriller (in the vein of TIMECRIMES or TRIANGLE), there's no credible transcendence to make the whole experience stand out.
A shame, because the undoubted strength of the movie is in the mystery of who the killer could be. Really, the notion of setting a slasher whodunit amid a time-travel story - in a one our real-time frame no less - is not only a boldly original one, but a truly exciting melding of two wildly disparate subgenres. In that regard, it's hard not to admire what Hurst attempts here. But it's perhaps a bit too lofty, especially when folding in a sappily unrequited romantic angle and in the end, pandering to what Zoe Bell does best...one on one fisticuffs. It becomes too much of an incongruity. Time-travel thrillers always come equipped with intrinsic loopholes and implausible timelines, so attempting to combine such with a raft of other subgenre conventions is a tall order indeed. And while it doesn't quite jive here as a gratifying unit, the sheer premise and fortitude to attempt such really ought to be commended. Honestly, the whodunit strand seemed a bit diaphanous at first, steering clearly toward a particular culprit. I thought I had this sucker pegged, but boy was I wrong. Now, the explanation of why the killer does what he does is less convincing, but as for the identity of the killer, the movie is bound to keep you guessing.
Admirable idea, poor execution of such is how to best characterize PARADOX, which, given the title, I suppose is par for the course. The movie functions best as a slasher whodunit framed within the strictures of a one-hour ticking-clock time-travel thriller. It functions worst when it tries to shoehorn in a romantic angle and a personalized action vehicle for the ass-kicking Zoe Bell. Unfortunately, the grey area in between is where most of the time is spent. All things considered, there are just too many disjointed components to comprise a cogently told, satisfying whole. Which is a tad disheartening, especially given such a bold and promising setup. Such is life though isn't it, the promise of one thing rarely ever bears the kind of fruit you anticipate. The same applies to this flick. A PARADOX in the truest sense!