Film Review: Curvature

A woman tries to turn back time and prevent her husband's murder in this melancholy sci-fi thriller.
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Helen Phillips (Lyndsy Fonseca) and her husband Wells (Noah Bean) were soul mates, techies who loved each other and loved ideas. But now Wells, who co-founded a thriving company called Curvature Research with longtime partner Tomas (Glenn Morshower), is dead—a suicide, and Helen is at loose ends. Then she gets a phone call from herself—future Helen, according to the voice on the line, calling from 36 hours hence, as she describes the car that's about to pull into the driveway and, step by step, tells Helen how to get away.

If the rest of Curvature lived up to that sequence, it would be a small gem on par with Shane Carruth's 2004 Primer, a low-tech time-travel picture that plumbed the moral and philosophical implications of being able to turn back time with considerable depth and skill. But Curvature founders on its own narrative parameters: The bitter hitch in this time-travel fantasy is that the device won't let Helen go far enough back to stop Wells from killing himself, the thing that in most games of "What if" would be Helen's end game. But she can stop herself from doing something—a very bad thing—she deeply regrets. Which is good, but it turns Curvature into a pretty simplistic moral lesson that no number of portentous montages of roiling clouds and breaking waves can offset.

To its credit, Curvature takes a viable if often-used sci-fi premise and tries to explore it through the day-to-day ramifications for relatively ordinary people, and it's easy to imagine what it would have looked like had it been made on a huge studio budget: no smarter, but a whole lot of CGI-effects flashier. Still, in the end it's a minor movie, thoughtful but not especially provocative—and provocation is the hallmark of the best science-fiction pictures.

Curvature is nicely shot and well acted and it's a pleasure to see Linda Hamilton in a small, no-nonsense role as one of Helen's mentors, but once it sets up its "What if?" premise ("If you could go any time, anywhere, where would you go?") it doesn't do a whole lot with it…at least, not a whole lot that's especially interesting.

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