“Counter Clockwise” (2016): Round and Round She Goes, Where She Stops, Nobody Knows

A good time-travel film requires some concentration in order to follow the convoluted actions and reaction of the story, and Counter Clockwise is no exception. This spiral maze of a time travel story is deftly told by director George Moïse, who also co-wrote the script with star Michael Kopelow  from a story  by  Walter Moise.

As the story opens, scientists Ethan (Michael Kopelow) and Ciel (Alice Rietveld) have invented a teleportation device and are conducting a trial run on a one-eyed dog named Charlie. According to their instruments and data, Charlie’s teleportation across the room is successful, however … no Charlie. Once home, Ethan monitors the lab  via security camera and a few hours later, he notices that Charlie has reappeared. After rushing to the lab, Ethan decides to try the machine on himself, still not suspecting that as the result of some fused wires, they’ve invented a time machine rather than a teleportation device.  Though the dog traveled only a few hours into the future, Ethan’s journey is nearly six months. Upon his arrival, he’s confused when he notices that the lab is clean and all their equipment has been wrapped and sealed in plastic. Ethan soon discovers that his world is decidedly worse than when he left and he sets out to identify what happened and how the effects might be reversed.

Over the course of the story, there are as many as three versions of Ethan present in the same few hours, as he tries to undo the violent and tragic events that transpired the day he traveled into the future. The tale becomes more and more complicated as Ethan runs across himself and must factor those interactions and their consequences into his plan going forward. Throw in some corporate espionage and an epic familial conflict, and Ethan is facing some formidable obstacles to the successful reversal of what is now his history.

Every character that Ethan encounters, with the exception of his wife and Ciel, are out of whack, some a little and some a lot. The Stoned Driver, the Crazy Wine Clerk, the Crazy One-Eyed Manager, and the Crazy Old Man at the Water Fountain are all somehow a half- or even a full-bubble off plumb. They seem to be adding to Ethan’s frustration by steadily pushing against his efforts with nonsensical behavior that slows him down and resists progress, as if they are part of history’s inertia to change.  

Besides Ethan and Ciel, the major players include Ethan’s wife Tiffany (Devon Ogden), his sister Fiona (Kerry Knuppe), and his mother Estella (Joy Rinaldi). Frank Simms plays Roman, a crazed, immoral, corporate villain with a slew of henchmen — Hank (Bruno Amato), Rossio (Caleb Brown), and Gilroy (Aaron Bowden) — each of which get a meaty scene in which to successfully sink their acting teeth. At one point, Ethan is hauled in for interrogation at the police station of the future. Clifford Morts, as the detective conducting the interview, is also a little off-kilter and is a hoot as he seamlessly intersperses the interrogation with a conversation about his diet.

Michael Kopelow and Alice Rietveld, as Ethan and Ciel, provide a solid foundation for the story  in contrast to the unstable, over-the-top behavior of the rest of the characters. Kopelow, in particular, effectively evokes a socially awkward, scatterbrained scientist  devoid  of self-awareness.

Director and co-writer George Moïse is also responsible for the cinematography while co-writer Walter Moise is credited with the editing. All these cinematic components — directing, writing, cinematography, and editing — mesh together to efficiently tell a complicated story without revealing key points to the viewer before they’re revealed to Ethan. At first, the number of tight shots seemed unnecessary, but they were all put to good use as a means for the story to develop at its own pace. After seemingly meaningless occurrences, their true import is revealed during a subsequent time loop. Ethan and the viewer are allowed to realize, literally at the same time, “Oh! That’s what that was!”

Counter Clockwise is a dark comedy depicting a man trapped, fighting over and over again against the plodding inevitability of time, but eliciting smiles rather than outright laughter. On another level, it serves as a murder mystery as Ethan investigates the tragedy that occurred the day he first traveled through time. Before he can reverse the outcome, he must first learn who was complicit in the crime. We could also label (damn those labels!) Counter Clockwise as a science fiction-horror film. The time machine née teleportation device produces a decidedly horrific outcome for Ethan. There’s very little science — lots of electronic equipment and a tissue thin “fused wires” explanation — yet Ethan travels through time by the use of an invented device, ergo, science fiction. To the film’s credit, it successfully avoids stereotypical time travel tropes such as focusing on the dangers of altering history or the consequences of meeting yourself in the past. Ethan’s raison d’être is to change history, so there’s no need to discuss the consequences. And though it’s not scary, you might argue that Ethan’s predicament is indeed horrifying.

Counter Clockwise is a low budget independent effort. The budget shows but not overtly, and good use is made of low cost techniques as alternatives to costly special effects. If you’re a fan of time travel films, Counter Clockwise is definitely worth a look. The film, released by Artsploitation Films, is out now on DVD/Blu-ray and VOD.

Counter Clockwise: 3.3 out of 5 stars (3.3 / 5)

Jeff Mohr
Jeff lives smack dab in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa and is a long-time horror fan. His first remembered encounters with the genre were The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan gorilla chases, and watching the first broadcast of The Twilight Zone episode, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." While he now qualifies as an old fart, he strives to be an Old Boy. Paraphrasing Robert Bloch, he has the heart of a small boy. He keeps it in a jar on his desk.

Jeff has written for Horrornews.net and SQ Horror Magazine. He currently writes for Gruesome Magazine and is a co-host of the Decades of Horror podcasts - The Classic Era, 1970s, and 1980s - and the Gruesome Magazine Podcast.