Time Lapse is a film that didn’t quite seem to be aware of what to do with itself after establishing its initial idea for a premise. It’s a really good premise, one which allowed it to at least initially seem intriguing. But that good faith only lasts about an hour, after which you have to wonder how the film is going to end. It didn’t seem too sure, itself, so it kind of whimpers out instead of building toward something thrilling and dramatic.
Primarily a three-person film set in just two buildings — but mostly one room — Time Lapse is about these individuals finding out that their neighbor across the way, who has mysteriously vanished, invented a camera that, every night at 8:00 P.M., takes a photograph 24 hours into the future. The three people: Finn (Matt O’Leary), the painter; Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn’s girlfriend; and Jasper (George Finn), the gambler. Oh, and they also discover their neighbor’s dead body, but decide that reporting that would be silly.
Their initial idea is that the neighbor died because he tried to alter the future. As long as they do exactly what’s shown on each photograph, precisely at 8:00, then they’ll be fine. They can even try to use it for financial gain. Post up the next day’s race results and gamble their way to riches. Well, that’s Jasper’s idea. The photographs also show Finn’s paintings, and since he’s been in a bit of a creative rut, he uses that as inspiration. What Callie gets out of this is anyone’s guess. She’s mostly just there for the ride.
Eventually, though, things take a turn for the worst. The camera starts spitting out images that aren’t the most pleasant. Callie cheats on Finn. Ivan (Jason Spisak), the bookie, shows up. Finn’s paintings get less detailed and look like they’re done in a rush. What’s going on, well, you’ll have to watch Time Lapse to really find out, since I’m not going to spoil it, although it takes a few different turns and explanations right near its conclusion, so I’m not sure if I even could spoil it.
It gets confusing and too complex. I know that time travel stories often do, but that’s not really an excuse. There’s a lengthy explanation by one of the characters at the end, and it’s just … it’s not necessary. It’s another twist for the sake of it, and the film already had a couple of those. It really didn’t seem like Time Lapse had a set direction. It was just hoping to find something, and when an idea came up, it was thrown into the screenplay and used until another idea was thought of.
The result is a film that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. Things can flip on a dime, and that can often mean that some events that happened before cease to really matter. There’s a whole “cheating” thing thrown in, but because the next photo showed something else — something worse — it’s barely ever brought up, even with how important it seemed to be in the moment. Once the camera shows one bad thing, it never shows another nice one. It’s too much, and too scatterbrained.
I’ve said a lot of not-exactly-positive things about Time Lapse, but the truth of the matter is that, despite its flaws, it’s also kind of fun. The premise does buy it quite a lot of good will, and even though very little of it matters outside of the moment, it’s still somewhat tense and thrilling as it’s happening. And, I mean, I did want to know how it would wind up ending, even if it wasn’t particularly sure, either. What’ll happen to these people? More importantly, what’ll happen to the camera? I was intrigued and often thrilled. And confused.
Time Lapse starts out with a great premise but before too long gets distracted and goes in every which direction. It eventually wants to make sense of it all, but it doesn’t. It’s scatterbrained and goes out with less of a bang and more of a whimper. And yet, it’s fairly engaging, usually thrilling — and that premise buys it a lot of good will. It works in the moment, even if you might get tired of what it has to offer before it ends. A 90-minute cut might prevent that. And a script re-write. But it’s too late for that, unless we re-wind time.