Thursday, October 8, 2015

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Time Travel Horror Double Feature

If I'm going to get caught up here I'll have to post twice a day for a bit. Here's the first post for today. I've been doing double-feature theme weekends for 31 Days for a couple of years now. Here's what I watched for last weekend!

Time Travel Horror Double Feature - The House at the End of Time/Timecrimes

This wasn't the double feature I intended to watch this weekend. I had a  plan to do Horror Comedy with a double bill of Things We Do In the Shadows and Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Then I saw that TWDitS becomes available on Netflix on the 10th, so I decided to hold off in a fit of fiduciary responsibility.

This was a pretty late-in-the-game decision, and I felt like I needed to watch SOMETHING. I figured I'd brainstorm a theme later on and watch something on my queue to tide me over. That film was The House at the End of Time - something I added to my list solely on the basis of the neat title. Once I realized what the concept was (and surely the title should have given me some indication) I realized I could actually form a theme with this and Timecrimes. I had a vague idea of adding Triangle, but I ran out of time (sorry) - and this way it actually becomes a Spanish Language Time Travel Horror Double Feature, which is somehow cooler. I can't articulate how it's cooler - but it is.

It's tough to discuss time-travel films without giving stuff away, as the orientation of scenes is often integral to the plot. So I may hide some details behind spoiler blocks, though this is not something I usually do.

The House at the End of Time
This was a cool little surprise of a film for me, as I had heard nothing about it whatsoever. It's billed as the first Venezualen horror movie and if it's any indication of the level of quality we can expect in future films than I look forward to more.

The film is concerned primarily with two frames of time. There's the present (of 2011) , where we follow the life of Dulce, a woman who was jailed 30 years ago for the crime of murdering her husband and presumably her son, though his body was never found. She's been returned to her house, where those events occurred, as a form of house arrest - this is apparently a 'benefit' afforded to elderly prisoners. It also seems very much like an additional form of punishment.

The second time frame is 30 years prior, and deals with the days running up to the events that lead to Dulce's incarceration. Because the film starts in-media-res we know that Dulce is not a murderess and that something very strange happened to her son, Leo. Something or someone grabbed him and took him into a large sub-basement. There are no exits from that strange labyrinth, but he could not be found.

Kind of a fixer-upper.

For much of the early parts of the film it feels more like a melodrama, with a family in conflict. Dulce has married an older man, Juan Jose, and their marriage is one of disappointment, accusations, avoidance and one terrible secret. There are actually two boys, with Leo being the older son and Rodrigo the younger. There is conflict between them as well, with Leo struggling to be the more grown-up and responsible one. He resents his younger brothers closeness with their mother, as well as his success at  baseball and his friendship with a young girl.

In the present the now elderly Dulce is visited by the local priest, who runs an orphanage. He wants to know what really happened and becomes Dulce's friend and confidant as she begins to tell him the truth about what happened all those years ago.

And what happened is complicated. Strange things began to occur in the house - a figure moves from room to room, a hand appears in a doorway, and someone gives Leo a note to pass on to his mother. A note that says that Juan Jose will kill their children.

The escalation of creepiness is handled really well and is echoed in strange events that begin to happen in the present. The house, it turns out, was abandoned by the original owner - an architect and Freemason -  many years ago and appropriated by the state. In fact - as the priest discovers - many people have disappeared within the house over the years. An old man with a knife starts to appear and the numbers 11-11-11-11 appear in blood on a mirror.

In the past a tragic accident results in the death of the young Rodrigo. In the aftermath Juan Jose discovers Dulce's secret, and it's one that pushes him over the edge.

Things begin to escalate and move toward an intense but satisfying climax that had me teary eyed in a few spots, even though a number of plot elements were telegraphed well ahead of time. The ending was overtly maudlin, but I didn't really care - I'd totally bought in by that point.

SPOILER (use mouse to select the below to see the spoiler text)
The gist of the setup is that once every 10 years, on November 11th at 11pm 11 minutes 11 seconds the house comes unstuck in time, and the occupants can move back - visiting times long past and, sometimes, bringing things back to their present. Of course the presence moving about the house, leaving messages and - in the end - killing Juan Jose and bringing her son to the present day. There are a lot of things that seem like coincidences that aren't (and a lot of actual coincidences that clutter things up and stretch credulity - but like I said, I totally bought in, so they didn't really bother me). It all fits together really nicely, as a good time-travel story should, and if it became a little predictable after a while, it was still well handled.

The director and screenwriter, Alejandro Hidalgo, likes to present us with before/after images. We see a lot of the same framing for scenes set in the different time frames, with dissolves or simple cuts showing us the same thing in the past and in the present. The story and characterizations are well done and the acting - even for the kids - is above average.

I really enjoyed this and I can't think of many horror films where I've had a 'dust in my eye' reaction to the course of events. It may not surprise you with its twists and turns, but it's still a good story.


I saw Timecrimes a while ago - and I may be mis-remembering, but I think it was from a recommendation during a previous 31 Days, 31 Horror Movies. I remember enjoying it a lot and was really looking forward to watching it again.

A small issue I had this time around was that the version on Amazon is dubbed, not subtitled. It was fairly well done, but I still vastly prefer to hear the original tone and cadence of the actors when watching a film in a foreign language. Unfortunately, I didn't really like the dubbing for the main character, which lent him a more nebishy and plaintive tone than I remember from the first viewing. This lead directly to a distinctly different reading of the film for me. The first time I watched it I was somewhat empathetic towards Hector, really feeling his desperation and confusion - this time I was annoyed by him early on and lost what little sympathy I had before he'd even got out of the time machine the first time.

Time Machine. Not hot tub.

Oh, yeah - there's a time machine.

Let me backtrack. So there's this shlumpy guy, Hector, who is renovating his home along with his wife. As he's relaxing n his backyard with his binoculars (as you do) he spots a young woman in the woods, disrobing. After his wife leaves on an errand, Hector walks up into the woods looking for the woman.

Now this is one of those moments where my perception has changed due to my reaction to the dubbing. In the first viewing I was fairly sure that Hector was concerned about the girl - that he saw something that made him think she was in trouble. This time around I felt like he was just being a voyeur, that he was hoping to get a closer look. I don't know if either impression is the correct one - it's just a noted change in my own viewing this time around.

He does find the girl, unconscious and nude, and is then savagely attacked by a figure in a coat, face wrapped in pink bandages. He flees, coming to an empty research facility. He finds a walky-talky and communicates with an engineer who is working at another building. Told that the bandaged man is coming he flees to the engineer who talks him into hiding in a strange device.

And then he goes back in time. And of course THAT goes well.


I still really enjoy the plot, and how well constructed all the events are. I mean,  I've seen it before and yet I still forgot things. Because of course Hector has screwed things up, and because he's gone back in time he thinks he has a chance to fix it all. Except that's not how time works - at least not in this movie - and the things he has to do and how he has to do them keep him on a path that spirals inevitably towards disaster and death.

Just keep biking, lady - it's not worth the hassle.

That the whole thing revolves around time travel would seem like a plot giveway (but the title should have already gone a long way towards that), but it's not the most important part of the movie. It's that flailing against what should be an inevitability - the attempt to work around events that are already in place in order to fix things without changing them - that provides the real motivation of the film. (And again - the dubbing meant that I didn't really get the urgency when the engineer explains that if he changes anything in the past that he could cease to exist. Instead I was constantly wondering why he didn't just do things differently - only to remember 'oh yeah' he might inadvertently kill himself.)

Time travel movies - good ones, anyway - really revolve on a tightness of plot and a weaving of elements together in such a way that they appear normal at first viewing and gain significance only as the film unfolds. Timecrimes really excels at this and even if I ended up not really like Hector much - and feeling like the ending was unjustifiably upbeat for him - it is very satisfying in the way things all fit together.

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