If there’s one constant rule echoed throughout all time-hopping thrillers, it’s that even the tiniest alteration to existing events could have catastrophic consequences. You know, the Ashton Kutcher effect – er, I mean The Butterfly Effect. It’s a real thing (if we’re to believe science fiction), yet dimwitted movie characters continue to ignore the warnings of previous cinematic follies and preachy college professors alike.
Bradley King’s Time Lapse is the latest film to challenge the notion of pre-determined paths and unalterable futures, but he does so through the lens of a souped-up Polaroid camera bigger than a refrigerator. It all starts when three friends go to check on one of their tenants after a missed rent check, where they discover a large machine and a wall of photographs taken of their living room. Some show Finn (Matt O’Leary) painting, others capture his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) at more intimate moments, and the rest star their gambling-addict best friend, Jasper (George Finn). But when the machine spits out a picture of something that hasn’t happened yet, the group suddenly realizes that each picture represents a tiny window into the future. Turns out their resident Mr. Bezzerides (John Rhys-Davies) wasn’t just a loony old scientist, and his latest invention might change three people’s lives forever.
From here, King and co-writer B.P. Cooper introduce the rules of Time Lapse. According to Bezzerides’ left-behind journal coupled with some astute assumptions, the group determines that if you try to alter the pictures in any way, you end up a charred corpse. Bezzerides’ last known communication ended with him remarking about his own death being caught by the camera, so he sets out to try and change the events at hand. The gang finds his corpse, burned badly, so they immediately mutter the golden rule of time travel: don’t fuck with time. This is essentially Jasper’s catch phrase for the entire movie, and it explains his mental state as tensions begin to boil between the three roommates.
But, like any curious souls who might become tempted by a machine that can essentially predict the future, each character eventually uses the pictures for their own personal advantage. Jasper immediately starts rigging greyhound races, Finn unlocks his creative mojo by seeing paintings before he creates them, and Callie starts focusing on her writing career while banking money from Jasper’s winnings. This is where conflict arises, because Jasper’s bookie Ivan (Jason Spisak) doesn’t believe in never-ending streaks of luck. He ends up paying Jasper a visit, learning about the magical future-predictor, and demands a cut of the action. Well, in proper thug form, he demands 95% of the action – something that eats away at Jasper.
For all intents and purposes, nothing important happens outside of the trio’s house, sans the few times we visit Bezzerides’ abode to pick up a picture. We quickly learn that yes, vulnerable mortals shouldn’t f#ck with time, especially when a self-appointed house arrest sentence is part of the plan. Finn and Callie quickly find themselves at a strange crossroads in their relationship, because while Finn becomes more passionate about his artistic abilities, Callie finds herself being ignored more and more. This situation only worsens when the machine ejects a picture of Jasper and Callie kissing one night.
The whole Three’s Company scenario seems a bit ambiguous from the start, but once the love-triangle action kicks off, Time Lapse hits a wonderful stride of palpable, awkward relationship dramatics. Ivan’s violent tendencies add a much-needed sense of danger, but we can’t help waiting for the ticking time-bomb that is Callie and Finn to explode with the inclusion of Jasper’s ever-unraveling sanity.
Then again, King and Cooper’s story does feel a bit convoluted, because it’s Jasper who first warns us not to fuck with time (sorry for reusing the term, but they’re not my words!), yet what do all three of them do? Fuck with time. Admittedly, it’s out of safety at first because the machine’s working capabilities aren’t fully comprehend, but manipulating time still classifies as “fucking” with it to me. Jasper offers conflicting opinions every step of the way that are fueled by his own greed, and while George Finn does a fine job morphing into the film’s antagonistic force, his predicament seems avoidable around almost every turn. Even his daily winning should have raised a red-flag – that’s Gambling 101. If you go to a casino and win seven straight days in a row, pit bosses will begin to ask question. Can you imagine how a thuggish bookie would react?
With that said, Time Lapse is still a perfectly freakish thriller that puts a new spin on time-travel mindfuckery. It’s not perfect by any means, and the logic could use a little tweaking when Jasper starts rambling, but the trio of actors sport a watchable chemistry that turns from friendly to possibly deadly thanks to the biggest camera known to man. Between Matt O’Leary’s continued ability to polish his leading-man chops (something he also does in Stung), Danielle Pannabaker’s cutesy guile, and Finn’s brash reactions, Time Lapse somehow manages to make a story about Polaroid snapshots curiously interesting – an achievement in its own right.