PLOT: Three down on their luck friends stumble upon a large, mysterious camera in a neighbor's apartment that can take pictures 24 hours into the future. As they begin to manipulate the technology for their own benefit, a series of unnerving photos threaten to alter their lives forever.
REVIEW: After a decade spent honing his craft on a foursome of short films, writer/director Bradley King makes an audacious attempt with his debut feature TIME LAPSE, an intriguing if nubilous single-set three-hander. Like most films that tinker with the chronology of time or set out to blur the lines between past, present and future - a certain amount of suspended disbelief is a must in order to accept the many potential paradoxes that come into play, and that's certainly the case here as well. This will no doubt be a more difficult watch for some than others, but if you can get past the temporal structure of the film, the deliberate plotting and fine performances of the three main leads are compelling enough for you to enjoy. Sure it's a bit overlong and clearly cribs from the famous "A Most Unusual Camera" episode of The Twilight Zone, but if you dig trippy time-bending chillers, TIME LAPSE is probably worth clocking.
Finn (Matt O'Leary) is an aspiring painter and building manager, or a glorified janitor as he admits later in the film, who lives with his poet girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and degenerate gambling pal Jasper (George Finn). After noticing one day their elderly neighbor Mr. Bezzerides (John Rysh-Davies) has gone missing, a quick apartment check leads to the discovery of a really strange piece of equipment inside: A giant, steam-punk looking camera contraption, bolted to the floor, with a huge lens and a retro Polaroid printout. More troubling yet, Mr. Bezzerides' body is found incinerated to a char inside a storage room. What gives? And why the hell is the lens of the mega-machine is pointed right toward the front window of the trio's apartment?
Turns out this mystery machine has the ability to take a photograph of events that will unfold 24 hours into the future. Mr. Bezzerides has been experimenting with this process by focusing the camera on his neighbors' apartment, which implicitly throws Finn, Callie and Jasper onto a surreal stage of life imitates art, or vice versa. Since Bezzerides' cause of death remains shrouded, the trio finds it wisest to make sure to, on the dot at 8:00 PM every night, pose in the exact same position the future picture dictates. After all, if they're shown in the picture, they're assured of surviving another night. Right?
Why this seems a better option than calling the cops and reporting a dead body is up for serious debate, but since there are clear benefits to the camera's presence as well - Finn can now paint after months of blockage, Jasper pulls a Marty McFly part II and starts betting on surefire sporting events, Callie finds newfound poetic muse, etc. - the threesome decide to let it ride for a little while. Wise move, right? Not at all. Soon the Fit hits the Shan in more ways than one. Incriminating photos depicting a budding affair between Callie and Jasper throw Finn into a fit of jealous rage. More dangerously, Jasper's bookie makes threatening house-calls when the bets laid suddenly can't lose. Guns are drawn. Blood is shed. New photos foretell more and more violence. The confusion mounts.
The opportunity is now yours to found out what occurs next, but have faith you probably won't see the resolution coming. And speaking of resolution, one of the things I liked about TIME LAPSE is the effort made to give the film a timeless feeling, or even one stuck in the past a bit. Not just in the ubiquitous Polaroids pasted throughout the film, which I read production went through painstaking lengths to recreate, but in the archaic look of the humongous camera itself, or the antiquated 80s style phone message recorder, the lack of computers, etc. It has a refreshing analogue feel in an ever digital world. Really, that this film features traditional camera setups and doesn't trendily adhere to the ever-present found-footage or overplayed shaky-cam motif, is quite appreciated. Given the nature of the plot, it could have easily gone that route, but King prudently opted against it, thankfully so, otherwise the result would be nowhere near as effective.
And frankly, neither would it be with a lesser caliber of actor than the three leads the film so heavily leans upon. We all know and love the scream queen-career Danielle Panabaker has fashioned for herself since appearing in the F13 redo in '09, and she acquits herself quite well here, even when at times given your typically dopey dialogue for a low-budget genre piece. But that she isn't present to simply look sexy (which she does) or play second fiddle to her male counterparts...that her role ends up being more key than your first impressions may suggest, was actually quite cool to see. Beyond that, Matt O'Leary gives a docilely understated performance, almost sedate, but I think it works well within the confines of the outlandish storyline. He doesn't have to crank up the histrionics, the situation is too inherently dramatic to call for it. George Finn is also quite compelling here as a two-bit pill-popping gambling-addict, loyal one minute, wildly unstable the next. If it weren't for these solid turns from credible actors, really, you may hope time lapsed far sooner than it actually does.
But let's be clear. TIME LAPSE is no TIMECRIMES, no PRIMER, no MEMENTO. But it is, however, in the same vague ballpark of intriguing indie curios that bend the laws of linear time in thrilling ways. Again, it's like a low-budget stage adaptation of a Twilight Zone B-episode. Which is fine. Problems for me though arise when, like any time travel conceit, you inevitably run into some kind of grandfather paradox that ends up painting the plot into an illogical corner. Things get too jumbled. Also, I found this movie to be about 10-15 minutes too long, with a few lulls and drags along the way that kill an otherwise momentous flow. But hey, I know life is short, so if you dig these kinds of flicks, I suppose there's a lot worse things out there than seeing TIME LAPSE.