United States. Directed by Bradley King, 2014. Starring Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak. 104 minutes.
Many science-fiction writers seem to find endless fascination with the mechanics and “rules” of time; Bradley King’s feature début, Time Lapse, shows what happens when that fascination fails the serve the story. The script (co-written by King and BP Cooper) focuses on a trio of roommates–starving artist Finn (Matt O’Leary, Brick), his girlfriend, aspiring writer Callie (Danielle Panabaker, Arrow/The Flash), and their ne’er-do-well mutual friend Jasper (George Finn)–who discover that their recently deceased neighbor (John Rhys-Davies) built a strange machine, bolted it to his living room floor, and pointed it at their apartment.
The contraption turns out to be a device which, at 8pm every evening, takes a Polaroid photo of their shared living room…as it will appear twenty-four hours in the future. The gang wastes little time coming to a consensus on how they can use the camera to their benefit: Jasper bets on greyhound races based on information he sends through the photos, while the creatively-blocked Finn recreates the paintings his future self places in the camera’s field of vision. This probably can’t end well, can it?
Actually, King and Cooper have struck upon some intriguing ideas; pity they’ve put so much effort into constructing their puzzle-box film that they almost completely neglected the personalities they created to solve it. The characters move through the plot like figurines on a track, never deviating from the path the narrative requires them to take; the filmmakers devise a couple of token conflicts to drive the drama, such as a love triangle and Jasper’s textbook-psychotic bookie (Jason Spisak), which utterly fail to bring the personalities to life. Their behavior runs the gamut from dull to dumb. In fact, film’s final twist depends on them to be so stupid that they fail to deduce the most obvious solution to a mystery established in the film’s first 15 minutes–and which the audience will figure out the minute the filmmakers introduce it.
Even the most skilled ensemble would experience difficulty with such material, but the core cast seems consistently confounded. The relationship between Callie and Finn particularly suffers from the complete lack of chemistry between Panabaker and O’Leary. I can just about believe in a world where television stations broadcast dog races and a bored millennial can paint an elaborate and complete–if utterly pedestrian–work in a couple of hours. But I can’t believe that Callie and Finn have known each other for more than maybe a couple of weeks, let alone been together long enough for their relationship to have gone sour. The supporting ensemble does a bit better. Spisak and Sharon Maughan deliver thankless performances as glorified environmental challenges and exposition-delivery devices, better than the film deserves. King should face criminal charges for wasting Rhys-Davies, who delivers a stronger performance in a single still photograph, holding a sign reading IF YOU CAN READ THIS IT’S TOMORROW, than the three lead actors combined.
Time Lapse narrowly squeaks by a classification of “complete waste of time” by dint of the occasional thought-provoking idea or bit of cleverness…but it’s also the perfect example of why one shouldn’t rely on concept alone to drive a film.