Despite its Low Budget and Absurd Ending, This Sci-Fi Indie is Worth Watching
Time Trap is the most audacious time-travel movie on Netflix now.
Scroll through Netflix’s sci-fi selection and you may stumble across a little-known time-travel movie whose all-too-literal title, schlocky poster and corny tagline (“Deep in the unknown, where time stands still, the only way to survive is to escape to the future”) screams Syfy original. While this movie does indeed appear to have been made on a budget that redefines shoestring — and the acting often makes Sharknado’s cameos seem Academy Award-worthy — there’s also more ambition on display here than in many Hollywood blockbusters.
Released in 2017, Time Trap is an independent movie directed by Mark Dennis and Ben Foster, two Texas film school graduates whose even cheaper debut, the psychological thriller Strings, became a minor festival hit six years previously. If you’ve ever wanted a cross between the temporal anomalies of Primer and the boy’s own adventures of The Goonies, look no further.
Time Trap is streaming now on Netflix. Here’s why this bizarre sci-fi indie is worth watching.
Despite making multiple references to The Goonies, Time Trap’s direct inspiration, however, doesn’t come from the big screen. After four years away on a South Pole expedition, Dennis returned home to discover life as he knew it had changed forever. And alongside his regular partner in crime, he set out to replicate that feeling of displacement, albeit on a much more extreme level.
Their journey through space and time begins in the present day, when archaeology professor Hopper (Andrew Wilson, the lesser-known but older brother of Luke and Owen — listen for that familiar Southern drawl) heads out to Texas Hill Mountains to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two hippies several decades earlier. In one of several unsettling moments where the film threatens to spill into horror, he then stumbles across the eerie image of a cowboy seemingly frozen in time.
Following Hopper’s failure to return from the same caves on his second visit, teaching assistants Jackie (Brianne Howey) and Taylor (Reiley McClendon) launch their own rescue mission. Also along for the ride is the equally non-descript friend Cara (Cassidy Gifford) and her younger sister Veeves (Olivia Draguicevich). Rounding out their rescue mission is the pre-pubescent vlogger Furby (Max Wright), the only member of the group with any discernible personality traits, albeit mostly of the slightly nauseating kind. (“He always has that cheese puff crust under his fingernails.”)
Understandably, the group decides to leave Furby behind as lookout while they show off their spelunking skills. Dennis and Foster waste little time in disorientating both the young explorers and their audience. Within minutes (or should that be millennia), Jackie is injured thanks to a mysteriously frayed rope, while a strange radio transmission purporting to be from Furby can be heard coming from much deeper inside the caves.
On further inspection, Furby’s lifeless body is discovered. Yes, this is a film that isn’t afraid to murder its kids, perhaps foreshadowing the anything-goes approach that follows. Luckily for the gang, he was able to record his own demise (the only sign of Time Trap’s origins as a found footage film). Worryingly, the video captured somehow spans several days, with the Chunk lookalike (their words) also serving up a convenient exposition dump that offers some clues as to what the heck is going on.
Turns out that, before plunging to his demise, Furby had discovered the missing hippies were, in fact, Hopper’s parents who’d entered the caves to search for the Fountain of Youth. Taylor, obviously minoring in quantum mechanics, theorizes they’re all experiencing the distortion of time, further evidence for which arrives when Cara free climbs to the surface and witnesses a landscape that looks suspiciously post-apocalyptic.
While the group has only been in the caves for a matter of hours, the world outside has fast-forwarded thousands of years. And just like Greta Thunberg predicted, mankind has wrecked the planet beyond repair. So much so that — as shown in video reports voiced by Stephen Hawking, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump impersonators — the entire surviving population has emigrated to a now-hospitable Mars.
It’s a development you’d expect to cause mass panic and several nervous breakdowns. Instead, in one of many unintentionally hilarious underreactions, the gang responds as if they’ve been mildly inconvenienced. “We still have each other,” says Cara, for some reason trying to put a positive spin on the fact that everyone they know and love has already spent a near-eternity pushing up daisies.
The script, and the monotonous way it’s delivered, may occasionally veer into parody. Still, there are at least a couple of great lines specifically designed to make you laugh. “Between water and psycho Flintstones, I say keep climbing,” shouts Cara as their getaway is interrupted by a bunch of growling cavemen — just one of several surprise visitors who help push the concept to enjoyably ridiculous levels.
Indeed, you have to admire Foster and Dennis for making so little go such a long way, with the final act also encompassing everything from laser-shooting spacemen to tentacled aliens. The visuals never look particularly convincing, but Time Trap is still determined to give you plenty of bang for your buck.
Of course, the duo’s grasp of the space-time continuum doesn’t bear much scrutiny. And for a film that thrives on pulling the rug from under its cardboard cutout characters, the happy-ever-after ending wraps things up way too neatly, admittedly with still one foot planted in the downright absurd. There’s an audaciousness here, though, which should have given its directors (who haven’t made anything since) a chance to showcase their talents at the next level.