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‘Timestalker’ Review — Like If ‘Past Lives’ Had Gore and Dildo Jokes

Mar 9, 2024


The Big Picture

Alice Lowe follows her directorial debut
Prevenge
with even more ambition.
The insane combination of “historical sci-fi rom-com” plays like gangbusters.
An ensemble cast including Nick Frost, Aneurin Barnard, Jacob Anderson, and Tanya Reynolds work together like a dream.

In Alice Lowe’s sophomore feature Timestalker, love is life and death. Like, a lot of death. Also, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Those who’ve seen Lowe’s fantastic prenatal slasher Prevenge already know the filmmaker has a knack for blending pitch-black humor with deeply personal emotions. Timestalker is no different. It’s like if Past Lives was far bloodier, depicted reincarnation, and made 1700s dildo jokes. Lowe’s obsessive romantic comedy is beautiful, batty, and brutal in equal parts, but most importantly, it’s an effectively ambitious representation of volatile feelings no human can escape.

What Is ‘Timestalker’ About?
Image via SXSW

Lowe stars as the lovesick Agnes, who we watch pursue the self-proclaimed love of her life, Alex (Aneurin Barnard), across multiple centuries. In 1680s Western Scotland, they’re a preacher and his flock. In 1790s Rural England, they’re royalty and a thief. In 1980s New York City, they’re a rockstar and superfan. No matter when, Agnes pines over Alex and believes she cannot die until the star-crossed (someday) lovers finally unite. The only problem is, the many identities of George (Nick Frost) keep getting in her way.

Lowe’s premise may be zany, but her execution holds together generation-skipping storylines. Hollywood blockbusters help us believe in destiny, that we’ll find our Jennifer Aniston or Gerard Butler someday. Timestalker is, in glimpses, a commentary on how escapism informs real-life fantasies, delving into psychiatric discussions about “Erotomania Delusions.” Lowe’s script speaks breathless, poetic words about fated passions as Agnes instigates fairy-tale interactions with her elusive crush, but also keeps consequences real. The film is shot from Agnes’ perspective, teasing us with manipulative tones and the ruse of an unreliable narrator. Timestalker can be sweet and saccharine on purpose, but also satirical and scathing, much like Hulu’s The Great or Anna and the Apocalypse.

Related ‘The Beast’ Review: Léa Seydoux Astounds in Science Fiction Epic | TIFF 2023 Bertrand Bonello’s audacious and increasingly terrifying melodrama is his best film yet.

Lowe’s production team does a splendid job set-dressing each period, from a 1680s spinstress shack to George’s elegant ruler’s estate in 1793. Lowe’s transformation from a grungy peasant woman to Marie Antionette type to “Jazzerciser” to — well, too many costume changes — is exquisitely detailed and impressively transformative. From horse-drawn carriages to futuristic 2110s apocalypses, Timestalker is a gorgeous independent preservation of historical time-hopping that ensures each chronological leap feels immersive and complete. Costume designer Rebecca Gore knocks outfits out of the park, making the film like a career showcase that proves she has a killer fit to unveil no matter the fashion style or year.

‘Timestalker’ Is a Visually Inspired Delight
Image via SXSW

The film’s visual composition and photography are equally inspired, as Valentine-pink hues are a repeated accent. Lowe begins by showing us a 3D-printed heart torn from The Legend of Zelda, and pink becomes Agnes’ signature highlight. Cinematographer Ryan Eddleston takes advantage of sprawling Welsh hillsides where cotton-candy-tinted flowers dance in the film’s opening minutes and strives to keep hitting those highs even on the staged-as-hell streets of Lowe’s backlot New York City (it’s like a Broadway recreation of the Big Apple’s greatest hits). There’s a Wonka-ish delight to scenes where vibrant color representation brightens what should be drab exteriors, keeping the illusion of fantasy alive and well. It works to play tricks on our minds, color-coding Lowe’s story despite the insidious tone she’s burying underneath.

At its best, Timestalker delivers belly laughs in the most unexpected ways. Lowe punches us with heartache one minute or leans into Shakespearean romance; the next, she’s landing (faceplanting) physical comedy. Lowe doesn’t hide her “weirdest” indulgences, and we love her for that (also love that for her). Timestalkers is as surreal as it is subversive and lets obscurity thrive with overt storytelling methods. Do we need an audible canine bark atop Frost’s line deliveries as his aristocratic oaf? No, but that’s Timestalker. Nothing’s off limits in terms of comedy, including grotesque pops of violent mutilation, and everyone’s so willing to lose themselves to the overarching absurdity that is chasing dreams throughout history — but it’s the script’s ultimate honesty that seals everything. There’s a line about life being “drab, difficult and disappointing” that cuts like a knife, a perfect contrast to what’s ultimately Agnes’ lustful video game with replayable lives.

Timestalker is an odd duck of a romantic comedy that does everything except conform to subgenre molds. Lowe’s ambitions once again shoot higher than the moon, and she never comes back down to Earth. Films are rarely so expressively blunt yet gleefully unserious, from Frost’s Maniac-like psycho-stalker to futuristic dance numbers that lead revolutions. To be frank, films are seldom like Timestalker. What Lowe accomplished in only her second full-length feature in roughly eight years shows such promise as a daring filmmaker with an original voice that deserves a megaphone, and I can only hope it doesn’t take eight more to see what comes next.

Timestalker REVIEWTimestalker is the historical science fiction romantic comedy you didn’t know you needed in your life.ProsAlice Lowe takes risks that pay off.The film holds nothing back from gore effects to wounded emotions.The film can make you laugh and cry as it radiates nuclear levels of originality. ConsThe film can get lost in itself and the final shot takes a small step backward.

Timestalker had its World Premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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