Crimes could possibly be retitled The Idiot’s Guide to Time Travel - which isn’t a complaint or a put down of the movie. Hector is a hapless schlub who is moving into his new house; when we first meet him he’s coming home from the store without having closed his car’s hatchback, and has spilled everything he bought into the driveway. Hector seems to unwind by looking around through his binoculars, ostensibly at birds, but when he spies a hottie stripping in the woods a series of events unfold that lead to him stumbling on a secret time travel experiment and being warped back into his own recent past, where he soon learns about the dangers of paradoxes and the problems inherent with trying to outwit causality.

There’s a lot to like about Time Crimes; it’s a small movie, with just four characters (or more, if you count all of the time tripping iterations of Hector), but it’s full of big science fiction ideas. It’s also surprisingly funny… until it turns surprisingly dark. Hector begins the film as a bumbling doofus, but after experiencing the rigors of trying to mess with his own timeline he becomes more and more desperate and more and more willing to fulfill the crimes part of the film’s title.

Writer, director and actor Nacho* Vigalondo masterfully plays with the audience’s expectations and preconceptions; once the basic conceit of the movie is set up you think you know where it’s all going, but what you thought would be the big reveal ends up being just another swerve in the movie’s tightening spiral of chronology. The script is wonderfully economical but also plotted with weblike intricacy, making for a satisfying ride that also raises big questions about the very nature of time travel.

It’s impossible not to be reminded of Primer while watching Time Crimes: both films are smaller efforts without much by way of special effects, and both are more interested in the complications and personal effects of time travel rather than in the whiz bang gee whiz let’s go look at dinosaurs type of stuff. But unlike Primer, where the main characters are the engineers who created the time travel process, Time Crime‘s lead character is a bozo whose terrible choices slowly morph from comedic to horrifying.

Time Crimes was my first film at Sundance; here’s hoping that the movie’s excellence is a sign of things to come.

Note: Time Crimes is playing at Sundance with a short film called Advantage Satan, which is probably one of the great titles of all time. I imagine the short, which is about a tennis court haunted by the spawn of the devil, started with the title first and filled in the rest of the blanks, but what the filmmakers ended up with is effective and sort of delightful.

8.5 out of 10

*Not Bell Grande