There it is, on Netflix, and though I know it’s going to be low budget and essentially straight to video, it’s about time travel and young people fucking up their lives, two topics that are essentially catnip to me, and it has a not-bad rating. So there it is!
We open with a not-bad credits sequence of whirling red [paint in water, but nice, low-fi effect] and meet Finn, frustrated artist who is having a dry spell. We learn through banter that he is not happy with the way his life has turned out. He has a roommate in Jasper, whom we can tell immediately is more reckless and irresponsible. Soon his girlfriend, Callie arrives. She has bought a set of brushes for Finn, instead of the journal Finn knows she wanted. They all live together, none of them seem to have jobs, except for acting as building managers to the apartment complex where they [and very few others, seemingly] live. They hear that no one has heard from Mr. Bezzerides across the way, so Callie goes to check on him. The name Bezzerides was unusual enough for me to look it up, and he is a novelist and screenwriter, best, and most relevantly, known for penning the script for influential noir Kiss Me Deadly.
It is not long in before one realizes that this is a very low-budget film shot on digital camera, and it shows. The acting is also just this side of natural. Still, it remains compelling enough, and one soon gets used to it. Callie goes in first, then calls the others. They find a room with a bunch of polaroid photos—of THEM, through the front window of their apartment—with rows of day photos and rows of night photos. There is also a massive camera that is bolted to the floor. It whirs to life as they’re there, and out comes a photo. Quite soon, they realize that the camera takes a photo precisely at 8pm, but shows 8pm the next day, in the future. Jasper immediately wants to use it to make money.
They soon find the charred corpse of mr. Bezzerides, and make the rather bizarre inference that they have to make the same decisions that would lead to the photo of the future, or they will… self-immolate? Apparently. It’s quite, quite sketchy, but they have to create tension and urgency in the film somehow, and create a reason that they are bound to create the photo, but… it would have been better if they’d found a way that makes sense. This leads Jasper to say repeatedly “You don’t fuck with time!” Anyway, they also have to make it appear that Bezzerides is still alive and well.
So they post dog race numbers on the window and Jasper uses them to place bets through a shady bookie. Finn must paint the picture he sees in the window, or face future-induced immolation, and this revitalizes his painting. We never get any information if he has any success as an artist, if he exhibits or sells his art anywhere, or what happens to all the paintings he creates during the course of the film.
SPOILERS > > >
One picture shows Jasper and Callie making out while Finn is turned away painting. Finn is upset, but they have to enact it, or they’ll all be inexplicably fried! Finn then gets involved in his painting and ignores them while they’re enacting the kiss [quite unlikely, given how upset he was about it], while they start making out for real. It’s a trauma! Then, the next photo shows Ivan, the badass bookie Jasper has been using [they can’t just play the lottery?], and he is worried he’ll get involved. Jasper is also taking mysterious red pills and looking quite unhealthy, all of which comes to nothing, except for us to further understand that he is reckless.
Ivan comes over, and is quite skinny and not all that threatening. We are supposed to feel tension and danger, but we don’t know that Jasper has done anything wrong, so it’s hard to get into it. Oh, except that Jasper never loses, which is a liability for Ivan. Jasper is not very smart. The next day, Ivan comes over with his bodyguard, and they end up showing him the machine. Ivan says they will continue to bet, only now he will take 95% of the profits. The next day, Jasper takes a picture of the picture, and it shows them all sitting on the couch, looking terrified, with a skull and crossbones on the canvas. The big spoilers start now, by the way.
Jasper hides a number of weapons around the house, and practices his knife technique. When Ivan and thug come over, Jasper kills them. They now have three corpses in the downstairs storeroom. Then a friend of Bezzerdides comes over—long story—but she has a picture from two weeks prior, which is never explained, except a line that the camera does more than they know how to use. Jasper shoots her, too, making that FOUR corpses down there, which I was sort of getting into the daffiness of.
Now, since the showdown/murder of Ivan and thug, Callie inexplicably hates Finn, because Jasper “saved” her while Finn did nothing, although nothing we’ve seen really supports this, and she just seems quite crazy. The next picture shows Callie and Jasper screwing while Finn is passed out on the sofa… which shows the constraints of their conceit, as all of this has to happen in the living room in order to be photographed, and they all DO have bedrooms.
Anyway, Jasper clubs Finn, and locks him down in the storeroom with the multiple corpses! This was truly unforeseen. BUT! Finn had actually painted something in the painting that was sent back TWO weeks which is what lured Bezzerides into the storeroom in the first place, where he would die [apparently not immolated by time at all, although I’m not sure what the replacement explanation was], SO that Finn could fish the keys out of his pockets! Finn holds a bucket of water over the camera, threatening to destroy it, when Jasper holds a gun to Callie’s head, making her realize at last that maybe he’s not the best boyfriend material. Soon Jasper is attacking Finn, and Callie kills him with the highly-symbolic crystal ball [not previously mentioned].
So Finn and Callie are free to run off and share their love, at least until someone discovers one or more of the five corpses. But Callie is acting suspicious! A little questioning reveals: the camera has been also been taking pics at 8AM as well as pm [remember the lines of day pictures? That none of the characters ever asked or wondered about again?] and Callie has been using them for her OWN time-bending purposes, and all to SAVE HER AILING RELATIONSHIP WITH FINN! You see, the kiss was meant to make him jealous, as were certain other touches, and it appeared to be working! So, she says in one of the film's best lines: “In the end, everything worked out!” Yes, I guess! I mean, except for killing your friend and the impending jail time for any of the four corpses, but as the old song says: “The things we do for love!” Although one must admit that this is one of the more roundabout ways of reviving one’s relationship [had they tried open communication and honestly expressing their feelings in an atmosphere of mutual respect?]. Also rather more complicated than, say, scheduling a regular date night, but who are we to question her choices? Things wrap up soon with a somewhat clever touch at the very end, and we’re done!
< < < SPOILERS END
In the end, it was Shallow Grave meets Primer. This film absolutely would not exist without Primer, for all the low-key time messing, naturalistic treatment of this sci-fi premise, using it to make money, and the dissolution of friendships. The deteriorating roommate situation and descending into crime and hiding of corpses is from Shallow Grave. Still, mildly diverting, and hey, I made it all the way through to the end, right?
The weak link here is Danielle Panabaker, who has the least acting skills of the whole cast. I was expecting to find that she’s entirely inexperienced, so imagine my surprise to see that she’s been getting regular TV roles going back to 2002! Still, there are several key moments that she simply cannot sell. The other big problem is all the contrivances, most notably the completely unexplained “time-immolation” threat, but numerous others that have been detailed in this review. To the film's credit, it remains watchable and intriguing even as you’re perfectly aware of its flaws.
Still, that’s about the best that can be said. Okay for a first feature. Watchable and with a fun premise, even if it doesn’t all pan out. You’ve wasted your time of worse things, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better things.
If you love time travel films, or have low standards.