Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival

AMSTERDAM -- Latest filmmaker to try his luck at time travel is Nacho Vigalondo, making a feature debut after a shorts career that included an Oscar nomination (2003's "7:35 in the Morning"). Vigalondo remains a promising talent rather than the finished article: A smart, notably economical calling-card, "Timecrimes" ("Los Cronocrimenes") is set for a remake by United Artists, but it's ultimately little more than clever and thus may struggle to convert its festival-circuit acclaim to mainstream appeal.

Time-travel stories are great fun to devise, but can be excessively tortuous for audiences to navigate. Vigalondo thankfully doesn't go quite so far down the cul-de-sac of impenetrable smart-aleckery occupied by Shane Carruth's "Primer," but nor does he achieve the unpretentious breeziness that made the likes of "The Butterfly Effect" so satisfying.

Schlubby, 50-ish Hector (Karra Eljalde) is moving into his isolated new house with wife Clara (Candela Fernadez) when he spots something odd in the adjoining trees. Investigating, he's attacked by a half-glimpsed, scissor-wielding figure whose face is covered by pinkish bandages. Seeking first-aid in a nearby building, Hector is (improbably) persuaded by a nervy scientist (Vigalondo) to hide in a lidded, Jacuzzi-like device. He emerges to find he's hopped back an hour in time -- which proves to be only the start of his woes.

Even the most attentive viewer may struggle to keep up with the multiple "Hectors" and their overlapping antics. Eljalde's hangdog, everyday-Jose characterization is a consistent plus, however, as is Vigalondo's impressively sober visual style -- nice work by DP Flavio Martinez Labiano -- and the deadpan humor he mines from Hector's nightmarish situation. As a whole, the picture is, frustratingly, always much more about structure than substance.

Magnolia Pictures
A KV Entertainment production in association with Ibarretxe & Co.
Sales: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Producer: Eduardo Carneros
Executive Producers: Esteban Ibarretxe, Javier Ibarretxe, Nahikari Ipina, Norbert Llaras, Jordi Rediu
Director of photography: Flavio Martinez Labiano
Production designers: Jose Luis Arrizabalaga, Arturo ("Biaffra") Garcia, Urko Aguirre, Jaime Gartzia
Music: Eugenio Mira
Co-producers: Santi Camunas, Jorge Gomez
Costume designer: Estibaliz Markiegi
Editor: Jose Luis Romeu
Hector: Karra Elejalde
Clara: Candela Fernandez
Girl in the forest: Barbara Goenaga
Young man: Nacho Vigalondo
Running time -- 88 minutes
MPAA rating: R