Iteration 18: Palm Springs

On 415th March 2020, Palm Springs was finally released in the UK and I watched my 18th time loop movie. I watched it again last Saturday, on the 462nd March 2020. And it was just as good the second time! Out of all the time loop films I’ve seen this year, this one is probably my favourite.

One of the great things about Palm Springs is that it takes for granted that we’ve seen Groundhog Day (or Edge of tomorrow, or Happy Death Day – the film references all three) and we know how time loops work. Nyles, the main character, has been in this loop a very long time before the film starts. He’s passed through all the stages we know from Bill Murray’s character, such as trying to escape or learning new skills. Now he’s numb, drinking his way through the day, and may even have forgotten much of his life before the loop.

Palm Springs is set at a wedding. While this is a special day for most people there, Nyles has attended so many times that he doesn’t bother to dress up, and even sometimes opens a can of beer in the ceremony. Early in the film, he accidentally brings another person, Sarah, into the loop (she is brilliantly described in a Guardian review as a “velvet-eyed car crash of a woman”). She is horrified by the situation, but tries to make the best of it.

Having multiple people in the time loop allows for some interesting discussions about how they should spend their lives. The existential horror of being stuck in the same day comes across well. One thing I particularly loved about the movie was how the bleached-out blue-skies of California, the swimming pools, all added to the mood.

Spoilers follow

There are so many great touches in this film. I like the way one character finds peace in repeating the same day, enjoying being with his family, even while he feels sad at not seeing his children grow up. Then there is Nana, who more likely than not is repeating the day, just enjoying the wedding, and not bored at all.

The characters were definitely drinking in an unhealthy manner. Of course, they had no consequences to deal with, and no fear of addiction – but the ease with which Nyles popped open his cheap beers was alarming. It turned out the original idea for the film was a ‘mumblecore Leaving Las Vegas’, which I can see. Although that sort of drinking makes me very relieved for the main character. Just think how easy it would have been to start the repeating day with a hangover.

The film asked the same question as many of these time loop films about how we should behave when there are no consequences. The assumption of these time-loop films is often that there is a single universe reset; rather than a multiverse where people continue living (possibly even a version of the looper?). I’ve only seen this grappled with in Repeaters, but it’s an important question. At one point, Nyles tells Sarah, “Pain matters! What we do to other people matters!” but he doesn’t always follow through on this.

Apparently, multiple endings were filmed for Palm Springs, before the final one was chosen. I’d love to see each of those other versions, and figure out if any seem truer than the one that was picked.

The night before re-watching Palm Springs I watched Source Code. Actually, I slept through a fair chunk of it, which is a pretty good way to watch that film. While this appears on the list of wikipedia’s list of Time Loop movies, it is clearly not a time loop, since the main character is actually in an engineered simulation. On top of this, the premise of the film makes no sense, since the rules of this simulation are not that clear.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 13 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 8 minutes
  • Reset point: death or sleep
  • Fidelity of loop: everyone currently in the loop wakes at the same point, but the number of people in the loop changes
  • Exit from the loop: a correctly-timed explosion

Iteration 17: Two Distant Strangers

Way back, during the endless March of 2020, I watched a time loop movie. Time is a funny thing, and I never wrote this up. Two Identical Strangers won Best Short Film at the 2021 Oscars, and is available on Netflix. The film portrays Carter James, a young Black man who is trapped in a loop with a vicious cop. Spoilers follow.

As a time-loop film, it’s pretty good. It features the usual tropes: we have the main character waking up to begin each iteration, an accident to demonstrate repetition and potential agency, and the recurring passers-by on the street. Each day, the protagonist runs into a vicious cop, and cannot find a way to avoid violence.

As well as being a time loop, this is a political film that aims to capture the horrifying threat of the police to black people in particular. As the Guardian wrote, “Each brutal incident depicted – from the opening chokehold to officers’ bursting into the wrong home and shooting someone with their hands raised – was drawn from real events.

In an interview, the director Travon Free said: “you as a black American go through this cycle of emotions where you’re sad and upset, then you feel hopeless and then you work back to being hopeful. That’s when the thought occurred to me that it felt like living in the worst version of Groundhog Day ever.

So, while this use many of the tropes of time loop films, it uses them to give the viewer an experience of a very real nightmare. Halfway through, there’s even a dark twist that shows how trapped the main character is.

Given this is half an hour long and available on Netflix, it is well worth watching.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 7½ minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 3 minutes
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: the cop murders Carter James a different way each time
  • Exit from the loop: not shown, and maybe not possible

Iteration 16: Repeaters

Yesterday was March 378th 2020, and I marked it by watching a time-loop movie. Repeaters, from 2010, is about three people in a rehab facility who find themselves repeating the same day. While I found the film a little slow (this was very much mumblecore sci-fi), it had an innovation that I’d not seen before. Spoilers follow.

The three main characters are following a 12-step programme. They have reached Step 9 (‘make amends’) and have a day-pass to leave the facility. As the day repeats, Sonia, Kyle and Michael take advantage of this in different ways. At one point, they decide to get high, since they won’t be addicted when they wake the next day. Kyle decides to rob a liquour store, fulfilling his outlaw fantasy, but is shocked when Michael uses the lack of consequences to attack a young woman. Michael has decided to use the repetitions to do what he likes, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Kyle to stop him.

I’ve wondered a few times what would happen if the repeats stopped unexpectedly. In Repeaters, Michael’s rampage stops when he realises it is snowing, and it’s not supposed to snow on the day they are repeating. The three have slipped back into the normal flow of time, leaving Michael with blood on his hands.

The ideas here were interesting and the links between repetition and addiction/recovery were potentially fascinating. I think this film could have done much more with its themes, rather than focussing on the conflict between Kyle and Michael.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 9 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 9 minutes
  • Reset point: End of day
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: a certain number of repetitions

Iteration 15: Blood Punch

Yesterday was March 377th 2020, and I marked it by watching some more time-loop movies. Blood Punch is another film that appears for free on Amazon Prime. Which tends not to be a mark of quality, but this turned out to be a lot of fun (with some reservations).

This film seems to be a side-project by the cast and crew of a Power Rangers spin-off. It’s a criminals-hiding-out movie, a little like Reservoir Dogs. Skyler gets sent to rehab so she can recruit a meth cook, and seduces chemistry student Milton. After being busted out by Skyler’s psychotic boyfriend Russell, Milton has to survive the next day.

I liked this film a lot and loved watching the double-crosses unwind. However, the script tries to be edgy which means jokes about child abuse, a homophobic slur and repeated uses of the c-word. Spoilers follow.

The start of this film is a little confusing, as it drops into flashback while establishing the loop. The initial sets, supposed to be a rehab center, are obviously cheaply repurposed, but once the film moves to the hunting lodge where most of it is set, things take off. Like Mine Games this was a film that made me want to spend time in the countryside. The cabin here contained a wall full of weapons, which was the most enthusiastic Chekov’s Gun I have seen in ages.

The time-loop scenario here was innovative (although its explanation as an ancient Indian curse felt tiresome). It added to the complexity of the dynamics between the characters, and made for some great comedy. A couple of the twists took me completely by surprise. And this film looks like it was so much fun to make! It looks like it’s was made for fun too, but I am amazed nobody has tried to remake it.

Statistics

  • Reset point: End of day
  • Fidelity of loop: Traces of previous loops remain
  • Exit from the loop: One person survives the day

Iteration 14: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas

Yesterday was March 377th 2020, and I marked it by watching some more time-loop movies. I watched this Disney film because it appears on the Wikipedia time loop movie list and it was easy to get hold of. It’s actually an anthology movie, so the story in question is a 15-minute cartoon. Spoilers follow.

The time loop idea here is simplistic – as you’d imagine from a short cartoon. Donald Duck’s nephews pray for Christmas to come every day, and it does, until they are sick of it. The cycle is broken by doing the day perfectly. It included the iteration where they took advantage of the lack of consequences and misbehaved.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Disney films. The cartoons were on TV when I was a kid, but I preferred Warner Brothers, and have no idea why anyone wouldn’t. There is a huge issue with Disney cartoons in the hierarchy of animals. It’s like, Pluto and Goofy are both supposed to be dogs but are very different. In this film, the ducks eat turkey for dinner. What the actual fuck is wrong with them?

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 4 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 3 minutes
  • Reset point: going to sleep
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: doing Christmas perfectly

Iteration 13: Mine Games

Yesterday was March 377th 2020, and I marked it by watching some more time-loop movies. Mine Games is another horror film. It had a fairly low IMDB score and I expected little, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. Not everything made sense, but it produced a feeling of dread.

A group of young people drive into the woods to stay at a cabin with friends. While exploring the local area they find an abadoned mine, containing a grisly discovery. Spoilers follow.

This film included pretty much every cliche of the cabin-in-the-woods genre. The characters were foolish – not just going into the spooky mine, but also taking hallucinogens there. There was a slightly dodgy use of mental illness, with a character not taking their medication so they could freak out and cause the plot. It wasn’t the most sympathetic portrayal of schizophrenia.

As a time-loop movie, this only just qualified. There was definitely a repetition here, but we only followed one cycle. The time-loop was not helped by an awful denouement that made no sense, and simply seemed to be there to produce a jump scare. I’m allowing this anyway.

While this film was deeply flawed, I enjoyed it. The characters were interesting enough that I could overlook their incompetence in negotiating the horror movie scenarios. The idea of people discovering their own corpses felt horrific, and I also liked when one person refused to help their future self. There are a lot of dodgy films on Amazon Prime, but this turned out to have been worth a watch. And the beuatiful scenery makes me long to stay in a cabin in the midst of a wild forest.

Iteration 12: Game Over

Today is March 377th 2020, and I marked it by watching a time-loop movie. Game Over is another slasher film, but it’s also very different to all the other loops so far.

Watching movies based on an arbitrary link produces an interesting range. This is a 2019 Indian film, originally shot in both Tamil and Telugu before being dubbed into Hindi. Set in Gurgaon, it tells the story of Swapna, a young games designer, and was billed as a home invasion movie. Spoilers follow

This film wasn’t what I expected, not least because the time loops started very late in the movie. Up to then, it told the story of a traumatised woman, dealing with the aftermath of a brutal attack. She goes to have a tattoo, only to learn later that the wrong ink was used. Swapna’s tattoo contains the ashes of a woman who has been murdered.

While the film’s opening few minutes are brutal and shocking, the violence in the rest of the film never felt lingering or sadistic (to me, anyway). More time was spent on Swapna’s life and trauma than on the actual home invasion sequence. I can imagine many people finding this triggering, and while Taapsee Pannu’s portrayal of Swapna was excellent, I didn’t feel that the film had much to say about misogyny and violence. There was also a long sequence about cancer survival, and portrayals of suicide attempts. This movie contained a lot of highly-charged material.

The time loop here was related to video games, with Swapna’s tattoo providing ‘three lives’ in which to try surviving the attacks. Videogames are an obvious structure for time loops, since that is what the character/player in the game perceives when replaying a sequence. While this idea was used for both theme and decoration, the addition of the supernatural element felt a little strange.

It was interesting that the game we see Swapna playing is Pacman. This is the same game that Lisa’s brother plays in Haunter.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 10 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 11.5 minutes
  • Reset point: Death
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: dying three times or survival

Iteration 11: The Final Girls

Today is March 376th 2020, and I marked it by watching a time-loop movie. This one is another slasher comedy, The Final Girls. While it’s included on wikipedia’s list of time loop films, this film uses a time loop for a joke, rather than being about time loops. However, it just about qualifies under my rules, with the film’s main plot occurring in the final iteration. Spoilers follow

The Final Girls is the story of Max Cartwright, whose late mother acted in Camp Bloodbath, an 80’s slasher film. A fire starts during a late-night showing of the film and, in trying to escape, Max and her friends find themselves somehow inside the movie. The film’s time-loop is confined to a few minutes before Max and friends begin participating in the movie’s storyline.

I’d been planning to watch this film since it came out, without it ever quite reaching the top of my list. It’s fun, if a little cartoonish. It felt like the PG-13 rating held the film back, and it might have benefitted from being a little more violent, a little more like the films it was spoofing.

It was interesting to see the time-loop here as an artefact of recording technology. There was also a good joke about the background music becoming diegetic, and warning the characters of the killer’s approach. This film probably had too many nested flashbacks, but it was fun. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve dreamed of being the final girl“.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 45 seconds
  • Length of second iteration: 45 seconds
  • Reset point: 92 minutes passes (the length of Camp Bloodbath)
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: getting in the VW Camper with the characters and continuing the plot

I’ve watched a lot more films set in the real world over the last week than I normally do – and I am thoroughly sick of scenes where people are involved in car crashes mid-conversation. It worked well when I saw it in the Shot Caller recently, but I’ve now seen it several times in quick succession. Keep your eyes on the road!

One thing I’ve not seen a lot of is films inspired by repetition in video games. I think I have a couple of those up next.

Iteration 9: Haunter

Yesterday was March 375th 2020, and I marked it by watching two time-loop movies. The second was Haunter, directed by Vincenzo Natali, who wrote and directed Cube. Spoilers follow.

I’m surprised that slasher time-loops are so common and that this is the first ghost story I’ve seen. I mean, it’s an obvious use for time loops to show a haunting from the ghost’s point of view. Haunter was described in one review as Groundhog Day meets The Others, which is a pretty apt summary.

I liked the film’s opening where Lisa, the main character responds to the repetition with weary resignation. It felt sad and real, and was an interesting response to the time loop.

As the movie went on, I found myself unengaged with it. Like Before I Fall, this a young adult movie, so I’m not the target market. The film seemed slow, and some elements laid it on a little thick. The house was isolated in fog, and Lisa attempts to contact the living with a ouija board. The Pale Man, a serial killer, felt too much of a collection of tropes.

It’s hard to focus on anything wrong with this film. It was well-made and thoughtful, but just didn’t work for me.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 7 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 7 minutes
  • Reset point: end of the day
  • Fidelity of loop: eerie imperfections slowly build
  • Exit from the loop: defeating the Pale Man

Iteration 8: Triangle

Today is March 375th 2020, and I marked it by watching a time-loop movie. I’d watched Triangle before, soon after it came out, and it holds up pretty well. It’s a time-loop horror with a incredible turn half way through the film which is given away by the trailer. One of my favourite shots in horror. Spoilers follow.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 21 minutes
  • Reset point: leaving the ship (ish)
  • Fidelity of loop: traces of past loops remain
  • Exit from the loop: there is no escape

This film contains a brilliantly-structured series of concurrent loops. Main character Jess takes a day off from caring for her autistic son, setting out on her friend Greg’s yacht Triangle with a group of his friends. The boat runs into an unexpected storm and is capsized. A huge ship, the Aeolus turns up and the survivors board only to find it empty.

I knew that Aeolus was a wind God, but I missed that he was the father of Sisyphus. Fortunately one of the characters pointed this out. They may have been good at trivia but they were unable to escape their grisly fate.

Ships are great settings for horror films! All those long corridors and dark engine rooms! Flurries of seagulls scavenging the corpses! Time loops are also particularly suited for horror and there are several such films to come. Here, the accumulation of loops adds to the dread. This is not my favourite time loop, but it’s probably the best use of the concept so far. It doesn’t make perfect sense, with a couple of things that are done for effect, but this is a good film. The IMDB trailer even suggests a mythical symbolism explaining why this time loop happens.

Improvised masks made from sacks: is it really that easy to keep the eye-holes in place? I guarantee, if I tried to kill people in a slasher film, I’d screw up the mask.