I am a sucker for time travel movies, that is all there is to it. Whether they are beautifully constructed, self-consistent loops such as Primer (2004); enigmatic spirals such as Triangle (2009); or just plain damn-the-paradoxes, full-speed-ahead romps like Timecop (1994) [There goes my credibility.], I love them. As such, it is pretty much inevitable that I enjoy the indie, micro-budget found footage film RWD (2016). Two twenty-somethings head into the woods with their video cameras to record the latest episode of their web series “Ghost Goofs”. This time, instead of finding ghosts, they find themselves – quite literally, as they get caught in a time loop. The time travel elements are handled well, with nice call-backs to earlier action. The two leads are likable goofballs and keep the audience invested in their fate(s). The plot takes a different path to its expected destination, but it makes sense considering the personalities of the characters. At a brisk 77 minutes, RWD is a fun and interesting take on the genre.
Chris (Adam Hartley) and Ricky (Matt Stuertz) are two twenty-somethings with their own web series “Ghost Goofs”, where they investigate local legends in an irreverent style. They head into the woods to film their latest episode about a family that got lost and resorted to cannibalism. When they go to interview the descendents of the surviving members, they find the house locked, though there are indications that someone indeed may be there. While in the yard, they receive strange calls from themselves (!) and hints of other oddities, such as seeing someone skulking around the house. After they call the family and realize that they had simply told them the wrong day for the interview, Chris and Ricky head back into the woods to shoot more footage. That night, they find and enter a mysterious silo that leads to a much larger abandoned underground structure. While exploring the building, they encounter creepy noises and find themselves in a room with odd electrical equipment. Getting too close to a laptop hooked to the electronics, Chris vanishes in a flash, and Ricky is knocked out after encountering another copy of Chris and himself. Awaking together in the woods and seeing earlier versions of themselves in the distance, they find that they have somehow gone back in time. While slightly disturbed by this, they realize that they have a prime opportunity to screw with the earlier versions of themselves, such as by making crank calls to their phones. The pranks get more and more serious as Chris and Ricky find themselves repeatedly looping through time. Eventually, things get out of hand with multiple copies of the duo running around and goofing on each other in increasingly disturbing and lethal ways.
There are multiple ways time travel films can deal with the paradoxes inherent in the genre. Some allow the future to be changed, creating multiple times, e.g. Back to the Future (1985). Others are finely crafted and expertly plotted to manage to avoid paradoxes altogether, such as Nacho Vigalondo’s fantastic Timecrimes (Los Conocrímenes) (2007). In RWD, writers (and stars) Adam Hartley and Matt Stuertz (who also directed, shot, edited, and scored the film) borrow a little from both playbooks. In the film, time is fairly fluid, though it also does display a type of internal consistency. The audience is often treated to seeing the same scene play out the same way multiple times but from different points of view along the timeline. This is always fun to see the effect and later learn the cause. At other points, the fluidity of time kicks in, with future Chrises and Rickies significantly altering events. The rules of time travel feel more rigid earlier in the film and seem to degrade as the story progresses. This actually is not a flaw; it feels very intentional. It is as if time itself is getting damaged by the characters’ repeated loops through it.
The characters of Chris and Ricky are likable goofballs. One can easily see them as stars of their own YouTube or Twitch channel. Their sense of humor fits with the twenty-something demographic and seems genuine. While some older viewers may find it hard to believe that these characters would use time travel to play pranks on themselves, those who have spent any time on YouTube would beg to differ. I could easily see someone such as Filthy Frank screwing with a past version of himself, even to the point where he inflicts serious bodily harm. There is a strange charisma to Chris and Ricky, and this is a key to the film’s effectiveness and appeal. The audience feels bad for them as they are harassed by their other selves, but then again, the viewers laugh along with Chris and Ricky as they call the past versions of themselves “pussies” and “cowards”. The closing credits take a page from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) and promise that Chris and Ricky will return; Here is to hoping that that happens.
The plot of RWD does not go quite where one anticipates. Ok, perhaps it does, but it takes different route than expected. Being a time travel film with a horror bent, one expects the characters to run across themselves and bad things to happen. It is the humorous elements and the “let’s screw with ourselves” mindset that sets it apart from other, similar films. This said, while it has humor, it still has plenty of horrific elements; things turn pretty dark. The plot does fall apart a little toward the end, as the audience loses track of one particular set of the duo. Chaos reigns for a bit, but this fits the overall theme of time travel causing corruption. Just as the rules of time travel seem to break down with the repeated loops, so do Chris and Ricky themselves. It is as if their moral sense is degraded by the multiple trips through time. As the they degrade, so does the narrative structure of the film. There is an ending, but it is perhaps not as strong as one would like. That said, it still is a satisfying conclusion and fits with the characters.
RWD is fun little indie mashup of time travel and found footage horror films. The filmmakers handle the time travel elements well, starting with logical callbacks and then breaking that logic and those rules as time itself appears to be damaged by the characters’ repeated trips through the time loop. The characters of Chris and Ricky feel genuine and representative of a certain segment of YouTube star; they are annoying goofballs that still manage to be likable and sympathetic. The film’s plot is derived directly from the personalities of the two characters and makes sense in a weird sort of way, degrading structurally as the characters and time itself are corrupted. The film-making team of Matt Stuertz and Adam Hartley show that they have the creativity and charisma to do a lot with a little by repeatedly travelling to the past in RWD. I look forward to seeing what they can do heading into the future.
RWD (3.8 / 5)