Monday 15 September 2014

Found in Time (2012)

Director: Arthur Vincie
Stars: MacLeod Andrews, Mina Vesper Gokal, Kelly Sullivan and Derek Morgan
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
It took a while for me to remember Found in Time, even though I first saw it less than two years ago. My notes suggested that I liked the concept but not where it ended up, but I had to rewatch to remind myself of why, perhaps because it takes a while to ground itself and until it does that it feels rather confusing. It begins in a field, for instance, where a young man asks an older Peter Fonda hippie type in a colourful shirt to push him back. He isn't a taxi service, he says, but clamps his large hand onto the young man's face until he falls to the grass unconscious, to promptly wake up on a couch looking at a young lady with a laptop. He's Chris and she's Jina, his fiancée. Well, not quite, because he hasn't given her the ring yet, but he will and they're certainly a couple. He's on meds, somewhat unsurprisingly, but she's his rock so he needs her. And he needs to go to work too, with RJ, who serves coffee from the sidewalk with the aid of a manual typewriter and some electronic gadget. They're not your usual street vendors, by any stretch.

They seem to give people precisely what they need, whether that's exactly the right coffee or a key to a box. Yes, this is a little weird. Then again, Chris seems to pay more attention to a nail he nearly treads on in the street, standing on its head and waiting for someone to impale themselves on it, than he does his rock and almost fiancée. Clearly he cares for her, but he's more than a little distracted, literally. When he touched that nail, he seemed to transport to another dimension where he found himself putting it down. It's quite obvious that something is going on here that we aren't being told about yet and Chris and RJ are at the heart of it. In this world, people go up to coffee vendors on the street and ask for stamina, humility or confidence rather than cups of coffee. In this world, people with blood on their shirts and emptiness in their demeanour buy small rocks for arbitrary prices. In this world, people silently present boxes for Chris to unlock with the first key in his tin and refuse to charge a fee for doing so.

And in this world, cops take photos of them that mysteriously appear on their cameras as the people they might be thinking about. Here's where we really understand that we're not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. I don't know if this world is supposed to be an alien planet that looks uncannily like our own or an alternate dimension that's just that far adrift from us. At this point, it seems almost appropriate that RJ is played by Derek Morgan whose first regular role on TV was as a character called Thomas Gibson, three years before the Criminal Minds franchise launched, with its lead actor, Thomas Gibson and most prominent character, Derek Morgan. To us, this really ought to be nothing but a meaningless coincidence, but the framework of this film almost wills us to search for weird patterns. This is disjointed stuff, with clearly deliberate intent, I'll grant you, but disjointed nonetheless. We're stuck at the level of little Billy, for whom Chris fills a little bag with crayons. 'What are you doing?' he asks. 'How do you do it? You're scary.'
Even the explanations don't explain much because everything is either cryptic or surreal, depending on our point of view. That customer who bought a rock? Apparently the cops beat him up because he might have used it, but he comes back for another one, which Chris refuses to sell. The psych cops would take away their licenses and send them to the Mine. The customer doesn't believe it exists, whatever it is, but Chris claims to be able to see it in the faces of the cops. Either writer/director Arthur Vincie was dropping some serious acid as he put this together or it's all going somewhere, merely collating confusion factors. Making the lead character a psychic is one, but having his mind experience the days in a different order to his body is another. Having characters swap places, depending on how Chris dreams those scenarios, is a third. Having what might be everyone in the story apparently be there for one reason but possibly a few more besides is what makes it quintessential Philip K Dick.

Trying to fathom what this film was trying to tell us reminded me of Dick stories like Time Out of Joint, in which the lead character has a strange profession, lives in a world that's almost but not exactly like ours and who starts to experience weird anomalies that he can't initially explain. In stories like that, what we see is just a front because something completely different is going on behind it and we have to discover what that is. Here, we're not sure who to look at. Should we be looking at the cops, who are over the top and drawn from a dystopia that this world doesn't quite seem to be? Should we concentrate on vendors, which here seems to be a given role as much as a profession? How about the psychiatrists, like Jina, who do their work from behind masks that are rather like welding helmets fashioned by Apple? Clearly we're supposed to watch the characters who appear in more than one category, but at least three of these are identified quickly, even if their reasons are not. If anything, we wonder about the ones who aren't.

It's around the fifty minute mark that we appear to be given an explanation though, of course, we can't be remotely sure that this reality is indeed reality or just another front. The film's synopsis suggests that Chris, who experiences time like a jigsaw puzzle, finds out that he commits a murder in the future, so he attempts to change his past and present in order to prevent that from happening. This may be true, but it would seem to be a massive oversimplification. From what I understood of the story, the key to unlocking the confusion is the realisation that not one but two characters, who are connected in a number of ways, are doing exactly the same thing and their respective efforts are undoing each other's. Floating around that are the people who are somehow monitoring this, at least one of which has their own motivations to change this particular future. Then again, what do I know? I'm experiencing this story as a jigsaw puzzle too and, after taking two runs into this particular trip, I'm still only sure that I'm not sure about anything.
With a story this deliberately fractured, multilayered and open to different interpretations, it has to live or die on other factors. It can't simply rely on the story to hook us because after a couple of times through, I still don't know for sure what that story is telling us. I do like the basics that it uses as building blocks, the idea that in this world, wherever it is, there are people with talents and those talents can be used to form and reform that world. I like that the script refuses to answer our questions but is content to pose others in dialogue. 'What do we really know?' asks Ayana, one of those double characters, the vendor who sets up next to Chris and who sees his almost fiancée for psychiatric help. 'We think we have some say in how things happen?' I also like how some characters remain unexplained and thus open to interpretation, like the hippie with the spider tattoo on his neck. Is he God? Is he some nature spirit, given that we never see him outside the forest? Is he a humanoid visualisation of a place? Who knows? We can argue that all day.

If the story defies analysis, at least the performances of cast and crew are quantifiable. MacLeod Andrews is a decent lead, reminding of Jake Gyllenhaal in both looks and screen presence. He has surprisingly few credits to his name, IMDb suggesting that this is his first feature. Derek Morgan is very capable too, even if his character fades somewhat, to be replaced by Mina Vesper Gokal as the new vendor, Ayana. I'm still not sure about her performance here, as it doesn't seem to find a consistent tone. Andrews acts as if the story revolves around his character, while Gokal seems to react to him and others rather than setting her own stage. I've actually seen her before, in a dubious cannibal vs zombie movie initially called Holocaust Holocaust and later renamed to its tagline, Destined to Be Ingested. This is a better film, but not because she had a bigger part. Kelly Sullivan is better as Jina, though she was much better before we start asking too many questions about who she is and thus what she's doing.

Behind the camera, things are capable enough for us to translate what we see in an attempt to figure out the story. The camera moves oddly, making the whole thing feel disjointed, and the editing enhances the trippy feel. Characters can move in a consistent direction, yet suddenly be somewhere else, whether that can be interpreted as physical, astral or metaphorical. The view often waves around, though in more of a buoyant, floating way than a traditional handheld one. The score is strong, the odd combination of cello, harp and percussion making it memorable. On the negative side, the footage of Chris and Jina interacting on a New York street was clearly guerrilla style shooting and there are too many people obviously looking at the camera for us to focus. The scenes in the Mine are crazy low budget and unconvincing. And I'm at a loss to explain the ending, which feels to me like a huge copout. I think I've figured out most of the plot after two trips through Found in Time, but not all and the ending especially makes no sense to me.

I wish my readers luck in getting further than I did. I'd love to hear what other people read into this film and whether it made sense to them. I'd love to know if the ending felt right to anyone, or if they sat there watching the credits roll wondering if they'd blipped out for a while just as Chris does periodically in the story. To be honest, I'm still not quite sure what causes Chris to experience the world in the way he does and, if it isn't inherent, who's causing it. There are so many questions here that every time I think I've got it down, I start to argue with myself about whether I've understood any of it. Found in Time will surely be right up the alley of those who tend to appreciate complexity for its own sake. I enjoy being treated like a grown up by filmmakers and given something substantial to get my teeth into, but I don't enjoy being led down the garden path by something that can't be explained at the end. I'm not yet convinced that Arthur Vincie understands the story he wrote, but I may end up giving it a third attempt to figure out.

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