The protagonists of “Time Lapse” find their ordinary young lives rocked by discovery of a machine that can somehow take photos of their apartment 24 hours hence — a find they exploit to modest benefits, but which proves their undoing. This clever, small-scale fantasy thriller has played numerous festivals over the past year, picking up numerous awards en route. It opened at Hollywood’s Arena Theater and launches on VOD May 15. Theatrical exposure will likely be modest, but the pic should continue to accrue appreciation from brainier genre fans via home format sales.
Bespectacled Finn (Matt O’Leary) is a painter experiencing the visual-artist equivalent of writers’ block. Meanwhile he’s thinly supporting himself by being building manager of the bungalow-style apartment complex where he lives with devoted, gainfully employed aspiring writer g.f. Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and their gambling-prone bartender flatmate Jasper (George Finn). She is a more cheerful sustainer of their living arrangement than the boys — certainly sullen Finn — perhaps deserve.
When older tenant Mr. Bezzerides is late on his rent, they investigate, only to find his dank apartment abandoned. More disturbingly, they find an entire wall of Polaroid-style photos he’d shot of their own picture-windowed living room directly opposite. Strangest of all, there’s a large mechanical gizmo there which, they soon suss, takes “instant” snaps of that voyeuristic perspective … a day in advance of actual events. They also find a journal in which Bezzerides worried he’d foreseen his own death — and duly discover his desiccated corpse in a basement storage room.
“He broke the cardinal rule: Don’t f— with time,” Jasper says. But he’s also the first to “consider the possibilities” inherent in their late neighbor’s invention, not excluding financial benefits from knowing the next day’s race results. Despite some misgivings, the trio are quickly seduced down a rabbit hole in which each 24-hour period brings greater rewards from foreseeing the future—including Finn breaking his creative block by already knowing what he’ll paint. But they’re also presumably locked into making decisions that will lead to the photos’ sometimes discomfiting depictions of their immediate future.
This generates increasingly complex logistical dilemmas and interpersonal conflicts. Meanwhile, incautious Jasper’s newfound gambling success attracts interest from scary bookie Ivan (Jason Spisak) who is hardly shy about threatening their lives if they don’t bend their bizarre windfall to his will. The property’s nice-guy security guard, Big Joe (Amin Joseph), also grows suspicious of too many suspicious activities.
A first feature for helmer Bradley King and co-scenarist BP Cooper (though the latter has produced several indies), “Time Lapse” works due to both their escalating pileup of well-thought-out complications and credible character psychologies nicely communicated by expert performances. (The disintegration of Callie and Finn’s relationship provides a primary emotional undercurrent to the narrative’s principal fantastical/suspense thread.) A few late twists strike the first generic note of narrative/character contrivance, but nonetheless deliver a satisfyingly ironical denouement.
Very well crafted within a modest scale, the pic never feels claustrophobic despite largely being confined to the protagonists’ flat. All tech/design contributions are savvy but unobtrusive, never wresting attention from an ingenious narrative measured out in unhurried yet always-engaging terms.