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Taken for what it is, time travel movies are hit and miss, with many forsaking the science of it all in order to tell a story while others put great effort into concocting elaborate explanations for how it works, often giving the story less weight. Finding a balance isn’t so easy, and being convinced even less so.
Now comes Displacement, a decidedly twisty thriller that leaps right into the fray, tossing out a hefty stream of science-y work-arounds and walls of formulas as it pieces together its mystery in haphazard time jumps and tongue-tangling dialogue, all the while homaging those that it draws influence from. We are meant to be confused, as is part and parcel for the genre, and while it forgoes attempts at giving its characters any real depth, and we spend a lot of time playing catch-up, the fiction is great fun.
Cassie Sinclair (Courtney Hope) is stuck in a loop, and while most of us might feel the same with repeating routines and habits, for her, it’s literal as she has become ensnared in a temporal glitch. A brilliant young physics student, she had created a breakthrough formula that allows for time-travel and is now trapped in it after it has been used under nefarious reasons by someone else. As she skips about time, she is steadily overcome by guilt for abandoning her dying mother’s last wishes and even though she is periodically caught by another team looking to make use of her work, she refuses to stop the loop until she can make amends and more so, prevent the murder of her boyfriend.
Written and directed by Kenneth Mader, Displacement is a game of attention as it takes great pains to set up the story with a number of key moments that initially seem random but in fact are crucial when the film eventually folds back on itself in a kind of replay from other angles. While that’s not necessarily a new trick in the parlor, Mader does keep it clipping along with great momentum, and even if we can’t follow all the details, and Cassie spends a lot of time in exposition, the story is nonetheless intriguing enough that it’s nearly impossible to look away.
As solid as the story is, and as competently as Mader keeps it all on track, it’s Courtney Hope who is the glue, delivering an energetic and impassioned turn as a woman desperate to learn what is happening and stay one step ahead of everyone else. She keeps it urgent and Mader makes good use of her throughout. She’s supported by some terrific performances as well from veterans Bruce Davison playing her professor, and Sarah Douglas as a mysterious kidnapper, who many might remember best from Superman II. Both have some strong moments with Douglas especially fun, elevating many parts of the movie.
Where it stumbles a bit is its accessibility as the language becomes nearly nothing but conversations involving quantum technobabble, and while it’s never dumbed down, it gets heavy. Still, there’s some credible tension and lots of clever bits that make good use of the premise, despite the lower budget. While Hope does a great job convincing us she is in turmoil, the story itself lacks some punch selling it, if only because we are tossed around so much it’s hard to feel investment. However even amid an already crowded group of well-made time-traveling films, Displacement certainly holds its own.
Movie description: Displacement is a 2017 sci-fi thriller about a physics student who must find a way to reverse a deadly quantum time anomaly and stop the murder of her boyfriend.
Director(s): Kenneth Mader
Actor(s): Courtney Hope, Sarah Douglas, Bruce Davison
Genre: Sci-fi, Drama