AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD AND VIDEO ON DEMAND: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 101 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Scientist Ethan Walker is obsessively working on inventing a teleportation device but realises he’s inadvertently created a time machine when he sends his dog into the future and back. He then sends himself six months into the future and finds that not only is he being accused of murdering his wife and sister, but that his mother’s in a coma and both the police and some mysterious men are after him. He now needs to try to return to the point right before everything went wrong and solve the mystery in the process, but this is a time travel story and these things tend to be easier said than done….
Counter Clockwise is a neat low budget time travel flick that clearly contains some DNA from some of its fore-bearers [Timecrimes and Primer especially perhaps] of a subgenre that can work equally well for big and small productions alike, but which still comes across as something of an original. Fans of these kinds of stories may very well have a ball and I found the picture pretty engrossing myself. It’s fast paced, is extremely twisty to the point where you may have to rewind certain moments so it sinks in what has actually happened or what information has just been given out, and is very stylishly directed by newcomer George Moïse who is certainly a guy to watch. It does suffer a bit from an inconsistency of tone; overall the tale is a very serious, downbeat one, but the screenwriters [who comprise Moïse, his brother Walter and star Michael Kopelow] feel the need to insert bits of humour every now and again which do sometimes succeed in being funny [which means they do work in a sense] but which often threaten to weaken the urgent and compelling narrative that they’ve set up for us. And there are a couple of moments where the story seems to get a bit lost, but that’s nothing new in films like this and I have a feeling that certain things will make more sense on a second viewing. It’s also nice that the script seems to accept things like – for example – there can be multiple versions of one person, without trying to explain everything.
As the opening shots pan around Ethan’s equipment and refuse to show the faces of Ethan and his partner Ceil for a minute or so, I had to smile at the fact that much of what we see looks like it’s from the 1980’s, but then why wouldn’t a guy like Ethan – who probably has little money – construct what he needs to construct from whatever old junk he can find? I also liked that our bearded nerd of a hero is such an unusual looking one and he’s played throughout by Michael Kopelow with just the right level of bewilderment, pain and resilience – plus just a touch of looking like he’s about to burst into laughter at the absurdly awful situations within which he finds himself. I did find it hard to swallow that he has such a pretty wife in the form of the extremely pretty Devon Ogden, but then some people are attracted more by brains than looks, and one of the bad guys towards the end does mention this very subject! Ethan is usually sympathetic, though you have to get past the very first scene where he experiments on Charlie his one-eyed dog, deciding to try out his teleportation device on him. He obviously hasn’t tried inanimate objects first because he seems shocked when Charlie disappears rather than just re-appear elsewhere, and many animal lovers will probably hate this guy right off the bat, but luckily Ethan soon becomes more likeable thanks largely to Kopelow’s offbeat charm, and Charlie soon comes back anyway.
It did cross my mind for a few moments here that Ethan is not actually very clever. I mean how on earth can you be seemingly building a teleportation device [he should have asked Seth B….or no, that probably wouldn’t have worked out very well either] but instead manage to create a time machine by mistake? But then I’m no scientist or knowledgeable whatsoever in this kind of field. Anyway, Ethan receives a mysterious call from an ‘unknown number’, then goes home to his lovely wife Tiffany who may be pregnant, but we’re not really sure because the film twice jumps forward past some lines of dialogue and doesn’t give us what could be some crucial [or maybe it isn’t] information. Ethan also has a sister Fiona and a mother who’s having a birthday party. He buys her an expensive bottle of wine which is then accidently smashed. The camera zooms into the bottle and then fills the screen with green lights which may seem like a bit of self-indulgent stylistics, though this event will be re-visited later so it’s kind of important. Ethan then takes himself into the future with no hesitation whatsoever, time travel represented by the screen going black for a few seconds which is possibly more realistic than the more elaborate renderings that we’ve seen. He’s greeted by the sight of his equipment covered up and confronted by an angry man who asks him if he works for ‘Syndicate Red’. This is nothing, though, compared to when he finds his house up for rent, his mum in a coma, and his wife and sister dead, supposedly killed by him to boot! And both the police and men possibly from this Syndicate Red are after him and keep asking him questions to which he doesn’t know the answers!
It’s all most intriguing, and gets odder and odder from that point. Like many time travelling heroes, Ethan has to travel back in time to prevent a terrible event from happening, but we all know that it’s easy to get lost and find oneself in a different timeline. I wasn’t sure where either Ethan or I exactly were at times, but that’s part of the fun of these things, and matters do wrap up reasonably well even if a hell of a lot hasn’t really been explained by the time the downbeat ending comes along, an ending which I certainly appreciated though which may disappoint some. And it’s not all head scratching – Ethan soon gives Jason Bourne a run for his money as he’s continually besting and running from various bad guys who all look far fitter than him [and can run like a normal person too], though of course you should never judge a book by its cover. I’m not sure that the story – which is good enough on its own – needs all this action, but it’s quite well done anyway, and has its amusing bits, such as when Ethan whacks a guy over the head with a fold up chair but the guy is only knocked out when he accidently bashes his head on a wall. There’s some sexual perversity towards the end which is inexplicit but which I can see upsetting some viewers due to it virtually coming out of nowhere [actually – come to think of it – there is a bit earlier where a goon want to rape Ethan, so I suppose it doesn’t come totally out of nowhere!]. Maybe it’s not necessary, but I love to be surprised when I’m watching a movie, so I rather admired it, tasteless though it might be.
Some of the comedy elsewhere has a tendency to feel like it’s come from another film, though the film constantly sparing us from hearing Ethan constantly explain things to others reaches a funny bit where a helicopter flies over and its noise drowns out what Ethan is saying. Quirky characters seem to turn up all over the place, from a building manager who asks for Ethan’s pants, to a guy in a wheelchair who takes ages to finish his drink before answering Ethan’s question but then turning out not to know the answer anyway. They’re not really necessary but they do help to give the film a nice offbeat flavour. There’s even the driver of a car who happily drives Ethan from one place to another and waits for him just so the plot can move forward. Best of all is the head villain Roman who finds it impossible to relax due to his stressful job and in one scene has to break away from questioning Ethan because he has a massage booked. The revelation of his motivation is one of the more unusual surprises in the story.
Moïse, who also did the cinematography, often finds unusual ways to shoot things. A conversation in a shop is shot entirely from low angles, another conversation outside a house has the character’s faces illuminated by changing colours, and a couple of scenes two scenes have two characters darkened so that they look like shadows. This helps to provide the film with it off-kilter feel. The device of skipping through parts of scenes, or taking a few seconds out of a scene so a character almost seems to teleport, becomes a bit irritating, but on the other hand we have a terrific 360% shot which is very well achieved indeed. It looks like the same room is used over and over again – slightly redressed – for different locations, and a police interrogation takes place with the two characters and their table surrounded by total darkness. It’s always fun to watch cheapie stuff like this and work out how the filmmakers did the very best they could with so little money at their disposal. Sound effects, sometimes sounding like some psychotic robot trying to breathe, are genuinely unnerving, and the minimal bits of score [composer uncredited] work fine. Acting is occasionally over the top but is mostly pretty solid and nobody really lets the side down. While a few things in it don’t quite work – some of which can be put down to inexperience – Moïse has still come up with a lively and compelling little puzzler here and a film which is a very welcome addition to a subgenre which – due to the very subject it deals with – usually manages to succeed in providing both entertainment value and food for thought, and which seems to positively thrive on inventiveness and unpredictability.