Counter Clockwise is a low budget sci-fi film, with horror and thriller inflections, in which a scientist stumbles upon the creation of a time machine. On jumping six months into the future, he discovers his life turned upside down, as he is the main suspect in the brutal deaths of his wife and sister.
Time travel has always had somewhat of a hit-and-miss relationship in film through the years, so to do this on a low budget therefore may be one of the more ambitious things that a director can attempt. So can Counter Clockwise compete with some of the time travelling greats?
The perils of time travel
Ethan (Michael Kopelow) and his partner Ceil (Alice Rietveld) have created a teleportation device, or at least they think they have. After many failed attempts, they make their canine subject disappear, and when he fails to rematerialise Ethan stumbles on the realisation that a fused wire has in fact meant that their device has mutated into a time machine.
These are scientists on a budget, and their ‘lab’ and surroundings testify to that fact. Their teleport stations and low grade tech appear to be from the same era as Jeff Goldblum’s The Fly, and even then his portals had more glamour. Also, as soon as any animal takes part in a science experiment I am instantly transported back to watching Einstein disappear in Doc’s Delorean in one of my all-time favourites, Back to the Future.
Upon making this discovery, Ethan decides the natural thing to do is send himself into the future. His reasons for doing so, however, are fairly unclear, and this is one of the first issues I take with the film. He arrives six months into the future, only to discover his wife and sister dead and he is the main suspect. What follows is an attempt by Ethan to stop these events from happening, which leads to multiple Ethans within the same timeline, causing chaos and for me a little too much confusion to maintain an interesting idea.
Confusion reigns in the sands of time
There are things to admire about Counter Clockwise. The budget constraints are obvious but there are some good moments, not least of which is the use of the camera and some 360-degree vertical spins to show Ethan being pursued by thugs, which are particularly eye-catching. Also, a sequence in which Ethan makes a dash across town uses camera work reminiscent of Spielberg’s Duel, which makes a strong visual impact. All those involved give decent performances and are working as well as they can within the material provided.
Sadly, though, these decent moments are lost in confused storytelling. Like many a time travelling jaunt, Counter Clockwise suffers from getting lost within its own complicated timeline. Its attempt to work backwards in a Memento–like method loses its way, and with multiple Ethans occasionally interacting with each other, confusion (rather than story enhancement) takes control. While this is a major stumbling block, the film is to be commended for at least making an attempt at such a complicated feat. One highlight of this time travelling is a scene in which Ethan is explaining events to his mother. Credit must be given for dialogue fading out at this point, rather than giving us needless exposition and explanation of events we already understand.
Other issues arise through the course of the film that seem to be unexplained. Foremost amongst these is the ‘villain’ of the piece, from a tech corporation whose psychotic tendencies are menacing but seem unexplained in terms of their direction towards Ethan. His motivation appears to be to get the key to Ethan’s technology, but his methods are not to barter or offer a cash incentive. Instead, he goes directly for violence without any insight as to why, and the viewer is left to simply accept his psychotic tendencies. A nasty undercurrent of sexual violence also raises its head at points in the film, with little or no reasoning other than to enhance the violent credentials of some henchmen; for me this was wholly unnecessary.
Counter Clockwise attempts, like many a sci-fi movie in the past, to warn us against the perils of technology or rather those that would misuse it. In 2016, the perils and our misuse of technology is a theme that we should all be able to recognise. However, Counter Clockwise does not stay long enough on this track and instead opts for unnecessary violence and a mixed up narrative that never fully untangles itself.
Counter Clockwise has moments of flourish and I wanted it to be great. Sci-fi and time travel are two things in cinema that when executed correctly are possibly my favourite type of film. However, when the parts do not make a whole, it can be a very frustrating experience. Sadly, the film falls into the latter category.
If the focus had been on keeping the timeline straight rather than diverging into other strands, we may have been looking at a decent time travelling tale. However, with the senseless violence and its sexual undertones, the film ends up sending mixed messages. Frustration was my major feeling at the film’s end, as I knew there was something impressive lurking beneath, yet sadly it was lost in the chaos.
If Counter Clockwise is not a fully fledged ‘great’ in the time travelling cinematic pantheon, I would love to know what films you consider are the greatest in film going time?
Counter Clockwise will be Released on DVD/Blu-ray & VOD December 13th.
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