Time Trap (2017)

Too often, despite its initial glowing promises, the internet has become the reason we can't have nice things.  In fact, we can't even have mediocre, slightly tarnished things.  In the end, what are things?  Are they a white patriarchal heteronormative social construct?  Is, "I think, therefore I am," exclusionary?

It's like background radio static or snow in an old-fashioned television signal, except that this static is made up of half-formed opinions and vulgarities while the snow is - well, something no one sane wants to see.  While I have faulted creative writing and other courses that teach "how" to do art at universities with destroying individual creativity, the denizens of the web bare a lot of the blame for the decline of our mass culture.

No, this is not a rave about toxic fandoms, but against those who actively work to scorch the earth of anything they personally find not to their taste.  The 1990s were a heyday of independent film and one of the most creative since the 1970s.  Many of those were relationship dramas, comedies, crime and horror films, largely because they could easily be made on the budget of someone with talent who is willing to take the chance on buying a couple cameras and getting some like-minded friends together. 

Science fiction is a bit different.  Even the cheapest, most derivative demands something, and as some filmmakers have found out a grasshopper on a picture of a building or a guy in an ape costume with an astronaut helmet won't cut it.  Yes, it gets you famous, but for all the wrong reasons.  If you don't want to have half your film be stock footage, then you have to go the route of Gattaca, where story and set design drive the movie rather than amazing effects.  Obviously, as great as the movie was (it was wonderful at the time to see something that resembled a Ray Bradbury story on the big screen), there were limits to what they could do.  Largely we ignored it and went along with the story.

Now, though, we have the ability to nitpick at anything.  A major, and legitimate, complaint, is that the movies released these days are typically franchises, off-shoots of franchises and endless sequels.  Even the attempts to start new franchises are 200 million dollar debacles that fail to make even a portion of their budget back, even when released to their actual intended audience - China.  It should be a time when independent film starts to make a resurgence, both in theaters and also (since we no longer have video stores) on streaming.  A movie like Time Trap, flawed as it is in many ways, should at least get the audience of something like Primer that can appreciate thought going into a film and an attempt at not following the Hollywood blockbuster formula.

Instead, because of a vocal minority of people who think they are taste makers, not only does it get lambasted for even trying, but good reviews are dismissed as being paid or being fake accounts.  Not that this doesn't happen (there have been rumors swirling around the Rotten Tomatoes audience score for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker), but it is sad to see legitimate audience members who happen to like Time Trap shouted down by a number of people who, when it comes down to it, never put their phone down long enough to form a real opinion other than, if someone has a view opposite theirs, then they must be a shill.

In our current day an archaeology professor named Hopper (Andrew Wilson) goes to explore the disappearance of a hippy family from 1970 in rural Texas.  What he finds is a system of caves, one of which has a man in 19th century Western garb entering, gun drawn, but somehow still as a statue.  When he enters he finds that there is a barrier and, when he enters, the cowboy starts to move.  Even stranger, when he leaves the cave after a short time he finds that the hippies' microbus has aged even further, while his own vehicle and another are covered with years of growth.

Meanwhile, Hopper's students Taylor (Reiley McClendon) and Jackie (Brianne Howey) get worried after he does not return after a couple of days, they borrow a vehicle from their friend Cara (Cassidy Gifford) and, with Cara's little sister Veeves (Olivia Draguicevich) and her incel-in-training friend Furby (Max Wright) in tow, they go looking for him.  Entering the caves from a different location, they soon find themselves wounded and trapped when an attempt to climb out leads to the ropes breaking.

A few things soon become evident.  The hippies Hopper were looking for were his own missing parents, who came to the caves searching for the Fountain of Youth.  Also, it appears that time moves slowly within the caves as seasons, and even years, pass by in seconds outside.  It also becomes apparent that they are not alone in the caves and that some of the oldest inhabitants aren't too happy with their presence.

Despite its low budget directors Mark Dennis and Ben Foster still have managed to make their few big scenes look good enough.  The rest involved filming in actual caves and relying on sets rather than digital effects.  Since they wisely don't try to include any monsters in the caves they don't have to try to clumsily integrate anything into the surroundings.  It allows Dennis's script and his ideas to play out, with many of them not being too far outside the realm of reality about how the world and, if it survives, humanity itself would go forward. 

That said there are things that move into the realm of fantasy.  The Fountain of Youth is the McGuffin here, so dismissing its existence as a given; luckily, there's no real explanation given for it, although the dilation explains why no one ever returned to say they had found it.  As for the dilation itself, it is also wise that the explanation is never brought up, as the main way I know to create something of that manner is to have a black hole.  A black hole in a cave in Texas would quickly become noticeable, and even quicker become not so noticeable as we all died instantly.  It could have been handwaved away as some alien race creating the Fountain itself and building a contained singularity that caused the distortion, but then it would have added a bunch of exposition that I think the movie is improved by not having.  The confusion, wonder and terror that the characters experience are more up front rather than the hows and whys.

While the young cast does a decent job, we still end up with a problem of everyone being too thin and too pretty.  All three of the main college-age leads look more like they popped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog rather than someone you would find digging around a square of land for pot shards.  Olivia Draguicevich, ironically, is better than the older leads, injecting a believable amount of reluctance into wanting to follow her sister into places unknown but still stuck with being loyal.  Meanwhile, Max Wright does what he can with the role given, which unfortunately is almost a carbon copy of Chunk from The GooniesChunk, though, wasn't a future HR manager's nightmare.  With everything else that goes on the creepiest scene is Furby suddenly caressing Jackie's arm out of nowhere.

Despite being a collection of professional head shots Reiley McClendon, Brianne Howey and Cassidy Gifford still manage to inhabit characters we care about, even if they come dangerously close to just being someone to accompany us on a ride through the future ages of humanity.  However, this is the important place that the film succeeds.  Going into it I was hoping it was going to be a situation going forward, hoping for an ending similar to The Day Time Ended or The Quiet Earth.  I was afraid at some point they would find some pseudo-scientific method of getting back home, but happily we instead do get to see a bit of the future without seeing too much.  I know part of that is budget, but sometimes budgets force movies into being better by not letting directors and writers indulge too much.

While I am willing to let the seemingly impossible time situation pass, one thing that I did have a problem with was the portrayal of the oldest dwellers in the cave system.  While at least they gave them a language to speak rather than just grunting, the cave dwellers are still presented in the same brutish way our ancestors have been presented forever - forgetting that, by the time migrations from north (and possibly south) would have reached Texas we were talking about modern humans who had spent a good number of years making their way across Asia and the Pacific to get here.  Even then, this almost animal behavior has largely been discounted over the last few decades.  It would have been more appropriate to represent the native tribes that would have inhabited the area. 

Netflix didn't put a whole lot of advertising behind this for their distribution, but it is still an interesting film that stands above many of the films they and other streaming services churn out.  Time Trap definitely takes some suspension of disbelief, but it is solid in both its idea and execution.  It is the sort of movie that in the past would have been praised just for attempting what it does.  It certainly doesn't need sock puppets to shill it.

Time Trap (2017)
Time: 87 minutes
Starring: Andrew Wilson, Cassidy Gifford, Brianne Howery, Reiley McClendon, Olivia Draguicevich, Max Wright
Directors: Mark Dennis, Ben Foster


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