Alice Lowe Takes Obsessive Crushes To The Absurdist Next Level Through Time [SXXW]

Mar 9, 2024

When dealing with an utterly preposterous premise, it’s best to dive straight into the outrageousness of it all and never let the audience have a second to question it. Writer/director Alice Lowe clearly understands the assignment with her clever new absurdist comedy, “Timestalker,” which doesn’t waste a second triggering its ridiculous but enjoyable idea. A period-set romance and time-travel/reincarnation looping comedy, Lowe stars as Agnes, a hapless heroine who falls in love through time, trying to follow the same man she fell head over heels for at first sight. It’s the “I will find you!” exclamation that myriad separated characters have seemingly cried to one another when lost to the multiverse of epochs (or in something as straightforward but achingly romantic as “Last Of The Mohicans”), only taken the piss out and amped up to hilariously silly extremes.
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Initially set in The West of Scotland, 1688, spinsters Agnes and Meg (Tanya Reynolds) attend the execution of a pretty-faced heretic preacher named Alex (Aneurin Barnard). With the mysterious traveling artist Scipio (Jacob Anderson from “Game Of Thrones”) sketching the scene nearby, Agnes falls instantly in love with Alex upon seeing his twink-ish baby face. Suddenly compelled to rescue him from his plight, Agnes trips over her dog George, impales herself on a nearby axe, and instantly dies.
For inexplicable reasons—other than love, infatuation, or even erotomania, which is more potent than the stream of time—she is then transported to Rural England in 1793 as an affluent lady of leisure. George the dog is now her disgusting, boorish, and syphilitic-riddled husband (Nick Frost), and Meg, Scipio, and Alex are all present within the same milieu as a new cast of characters. But the central proposition remains the same: Agnes remains love-stricken and obsessed with Alex, convinced they are intertwined by fate and meant to be together, lovers nearly connecting through the threads of time. Alex, for his part, is either confused, disinterested, unconvinced, or a little bit of all three. Generally, all the other characters (Frost, the spoiler; Anderson, the sage; and Reynolds, the friend, though possibly more) play versions of the same role.
Through the Dawn of Time, Victorian England, 1847, and New York in the romantic New Wave-y ’80s, the story and cycle keeps repeating: Agnes trying to find Alex and convince him their romance is predestined. But is all a fanciful illusion, blinded by the ultimate crush? In the 1980s, where the film ends up spending a lot of its middle half—and perhaps the funniest, most successful, and meaningful of all the segments— Alex plays a famous New Wave pop star and Agnes, an obsessive fangirl trying to persuade him once again to believe they are destined to be together.
But what initially seems like a ludicrous romantic love-at-first fairy tale about the perils of unrequited love spliced through various genres of time travel, reincarnation, and time looping takes on a toxic quality of unhealthy obsessiveness evocative of the film’s cheeky title. Eventually, “Timestalker” seems to act as an amusing and inventive feature-length riff on the psychological phenomenon of limerence—the state of involuntary obsession with another person, which is distinguishable from love and lust (though Agnes surely feels both for Alex).
Moreover, the entire notion of the film seems knowingly self-effacing and self-censuring; all of us have fallen for the wrong person in our lives, and Lowe appears to project the idea as a life-long affliction. From the same creative team behind Lowe’s horror pregnancy comedy “Prevenge,” some of that same cast (Kate Dickie, Dan Renton Skinner, Mike Wozniak) also return for this latest genre-comedy hybrid effort)
As outlandish as “Timestalker” is, Lowe’s film holds its idea together well with style, wit, resourceful imagination, great lovelorn music, the sincerity behind heartbreak and deep yearning, and hilarious, sharp laughs to boot (“What you been doing?” a version of Meg asks in the 1980s. ‘I’ve been changing my fate,” Agnes says. The amusing reply: “Really? It just looks like you got a perm?”).
Clearly made on a budget, Lowe and her team also strike a perfect tonal balance where everything feels believable in this eccentric setting. Like an infectiously dynamic, but melancholy synthy-Joy Division song (looooove, love will tear us apart again), Lowe threads the needle of all the film’s qualities rather perfectly. Because as silly and farcical as “Timestalker” can be (“Don’t expect any help from me, karma’s a bitch.” “So are you!” is another hilarious repartee), it weaves resonant themes of meant-to-be fate, longing, desire, the romantic ache of unknowable past lives, and other notions of dreamy, quixotic pining into a heartfelt shape.
Lowe also cannily plays with the idea of feminism and liberated women— even lesbianism, as a viable alternative to stupid, artless men—while toying shrewdly with the notion that we’re all witless slaves to love no matter how enlightened we might claim to be. And at a brief 90 minutes, “Timestalker” knows how to quickly blend laughs, constant craving, and even genuine pathos throughout all its eras.
Wise men have said only fools rush in, but Lowe says the humiliation of passion is eternal; sometimes, we need to repeat the same mistakes in order to learn, and it’s hard to help falling in love when constantly, clumsily tripping through time. [B+]

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