Time Trap is a cerebral sci-fi movie done right. Now streaming on Netflix, Time Trap manages to blend adventure and sci-fi in a way that will not put off less hardcore sci-fi fans and average movie viewers. Mark Dennis, the director and writer, delivers this sci-fi movie skilfully – doing a lot with very little.
Time Trap’s story follows an archaeology professor, Hopper, who is investigating the disappearance of some hippies who went on a search for the fountain of youth. He manages to find their abandoned camper van, next to a cave with unusual properties. Several days pass and his students, Taylor and Jackie, have not heard from him.
Concerned, they set out looking for him, borrowing their friend’s truck and bringing along two young teenagers for the ride. When they arrive at the last place Hopper was seen, they find his vehicle and a rope leading down into a cave. Assuming the professor entered via the rope, they climb down inside, led by the two students – who are apparently capable rock climbers. Once they reach the bottom however, their ropes are seemingly cut and they find themselves trapped inside.
Even though Time Trap has a very small budget, they manage to make this both an entertaining and intriguing sci-fi, by not focusing on flashy sci-fi effects that would potentially underwhelm the audience. Time Trap focuses on storytelling, good pacing and mind-bending events to keep the tension high. The actors, though not big star names, perform their roles well, showing the co-mingling of fear and curiosity that do not cancel one another out, but add a realism to the story.
One exception to this is Furby, the youngest teenager that joins them on the search, but stays outside the cave to keep watch. Furby starts out as a clichéd teenage boy who fawns over any pretty girl at the beginning, his character very reminiscent of Chunk from the Goonies. While there is no direct reference between Furby and Chunk, they do mention the Goonies at one point, so maybe this was an intentional nod to the classic adventure movie. However, once the action starts, Furby does take on a more pivotal role, moving beyond the comic relief he was at the beginning.
Though most of the story follows these teenagers, Time Trap avoids all the usual pitfalls of teen movies, such as panic that would divide and pit the teenagers against one another, or other similarly cheap devices to advance a plot. Instead, we follow this group of students working as a unit to uncover the dangers and wonders of this unique cave. Due to the interplay of characters, we become connected to each of them, making us hope that they succeed in escaping the cave.
Even though the name and the first part of Time Trap does give a lot of clues to the core subject matter, there is a lot more that will happen in this film than we first suspect, and that extra substance gives enough depth to stop this from feeling superficial. Through the use of camera footage taken from each of the adults in this film, we slowly unveil the complex time mechanics involved, which leaves our protagonists bewildered and afraid. In most cases, having the characters figure out what the audience already knows would be tedious, but the interplay between the characters is nuanced and believable enough to make it interesting and dynamic.
With the introduction of other elements that add clues and dangers to the students – the writers avoid making this a rehash of the beginning of this film. With one puzzle solved, another problem throws a spanner into the works, posing newer questions about how time is affecting them and the outside world. This sets the pace nicely, never allowing there to be a lull, as it is almost impossible to predict what will happen next. It would have been tempting to spell out all the events that happen in Time Trap, but the writers respect the audience’s intelligence, allowing us to figure out what is happening for ourselves.
The ending of Time Trap is an open-ended one, but not necessarily bad. It allows us to yearn for more of the story, but is still quite satisfactory on its own. Like the rest of the film, there are still questions that have not been answered. But in a way, this was the better choice to end on, as going too much into explanations would have ruined what they managed to do for most of the film. And I don’t think any explanation would manage to satisfy all viewers, so letting us wonder about what the ending means is a happy medium.
Time Trap is a cerebral sci-fi movie that everyone can engage with. Rather than going for lofty exposition, it keeps the story down-to-earth following the students as they grapple with the implications of anomalous time dynamics.