It's a low-budget time-twisting Spanish film. It's not bad at all.
Karra Elejalde and Candela Fernandez are a middle-aged couple, fixing up a house in the Spanish countryside. They're nearly surrounded by woods, there's no mobile phone reception and all in all it looks like a peaceful getaway. For ten minutes we follow them pottering around and doing everyday stuff, but then Elajalde spots something through his binoculars. A girl's stripping in the woods. Obviously nudity is always welcome, but less so is the man with pink bandages on his head who shortly afterwards seems to be trying to kill him.
It's not a spoiler to mention the time-twisting, because it's in the title. I'd been expecting time-travelling gangsters, like a 2000AD Future Shock, but in fact it's more low-key than that. The cast is tiny and the physical locations are limited. There are no professional criminals. Instead it's just one photogenically ugly Spanish man who's in no way prepared for what's going on and needs a lot of explanations. Vigalondo isn't assuming that his audience are SF buffs and so presents a fairly clean plot with very little to distract us from it. Half the cast don't even have names. There's not much characterisation. Instead it's all about the pleasure of watching a time-travel plot unfold, with a meticulous approach to setting up details to be rediscovered later. It's like Swiss clockwork or something.
In a sense, this works almost too well. The first half of the film sometimes feels perhaps a little simple, as if it's aimed at your mum. They'd have never gone this slowly and carefully in an episode of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. There's also the problem of causeless actions, i.e. X doing something because he remembers seeing himself doing it, which seems at the very least philosophically regrettable. The movie's title isn't ridiculous. Timecrimes are committed, which wouldn't have happened had they not been witnessed earlier by their perpetrator-to-be. Some are innocent and comparatively victimless, but others aren't and in any case it's not as if you can haul timey-wimey-ness into a witness box. In the film, mind you, it works. It all fits together. Everyone has simple motivations that fit their actions and are easy to understand. It's intuitive and even satisfying to see the jigsaw coming together, but it's still a lot like that M.C. Escher perpetual-motion waterfall that runs in an unbroken circle while always going downstream.
Elajalde I liked a lot, partly because he's so far from being a Hollywood pretty boy. I guessed that he was fifty and he was born in 1960, so that's close enough. He gets beaten up so much that this could almost have got comical, but he also manages to do subtle work with his character's different emotional states. For what it's worth, he's also a writer-director (Torapia, The Year of Maria), although most of his movie credits are as an actor.
The women fulfil their roles well, which is easy on the eye in the case of Barbara Goenaga. Nacho Vigalondo himself plays the scientist, presumably feeling he wasn't busy enough as writer/director, but the role isn't glamorous.
This isn't a film you necessarily want to talk about too much. It's all about its plot, with not much else to discuss unless you want, unforgiveably, to start giving spoilers. (Besides, those spoilers wouldn't even mean much out of context in an Ouroboros plot like this. You'd need to start drawing diagrams and so on to explain what's going on properly.) The ending isn't nice, but that's not mandatory in movies. Again, it works. Incidentally I've heard it said Timecrimes is getting an English-language remake by no less than David Cronenberg, to be released this year, although if all in-development movies reached cinemas then we'd drown in a tidal wave of them. That sounds like an intriguing combination, though. I'd be interested in seeing what Cronenberg made of the material, but Vigalondo did pretty well too.
Everyone talking about this film seems to mention Shane Carruth's Primer (2004), by the way. I'll be hunting that down next.