On an ordinary Saturday, ordinary Spanish schlub Karra Elejalde drives out to his country villa, where a mysterious phone call interrupts his siesta. Elejalde ventures into his backyard, where through his binoculars he sees a woman stripping in the woods. He walks down the hill to find out what's going on, and within minutes, a masked maniac is chasing him. Elejalde seeks refuge at a nearby scientific institute, and ducks into their time machine, which then—whoops!—activates, sending Elejalde 90 minutes into the past.
Of all the paradoxes time-travel stories offer, the most vexing may be that they're awfully predictable in their unpredictability. As soon as the audience figures out that Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes is going to be about a man revisiting moments we've just witnessed, the natural response is to start scanning the frame, trying to figure out which details are significant. And in a movie as tautly constructed as this one, the answer is clear: Everything is significant. Which makes the ways in which everything connects all too easy to figure out.
Yet while it isn't that hard to stay a step or two ahead of Timecrimes, the movie is still a nifty little genre piece, an old-fashioned science-fiction mind-game with a healthy dollop of "Oh, the irony." Vigalondo throws in a few good twists, some of which are genuinely unpredictable, and though the film as a whole could be funnier and scarier, it couldn't be much zippier. Because Vigalondo holds tight on Elejalde as he makes one bad decision after another, Timecrimes isn't just fun to puzzle through, it also asks the audience to consider whether we really want to look closely at the person we used to be, even just earlier in the day. Vigalondo builds carefully—maybe too carefully—to a socko ending, and a final line that suggests the crushing weight of foreknowledge.