There are few themes in science fiction cinema that are harder to get right than time travel. It’s ridiculously complex because of all the built-in paradoxes. Travel back in time to fix something and you might inadvertently prevent your parents meeting and falling in love. Have a character in the movie try to explain what’s going on and things just get exponentially more confounding.
That’s the fundamental problem with the indie time travel film Displacement. It follows the temporal roller coaster that brilliant young physics student Cassie Sinclair (Courtney Hope) travels as she tries to figure out how to go back and prevent the murder of her boyfriend Brian (Christopher Backus). Somewhere along the timeline spaghetti she becomes aware of how guilty she feels about ignoring her mother Carol (Susan Blakely) just before she passed away: Cassie is a bit of a workaholic.
Making it all more confusing, Cassie is being chased through temporal glitches and into her different timelines by a mysterious corporation that might or might not have something to do with her estranged father Charles (Lou Richards) and her beloved physics professor Peter Deckard (Bruce Davison). But it’s okay, because the characters are constantly solving equations on blackboards and in notebooks and talking with each other about “quantum entanglement events” and the related. Kind of like a quantum physics course without the Cliff’s Notes, really.
The film is well assembled and there are unquestionably some interesting scenes set up with Cassie and her doppelganger (played by Kristin Brock) and a hotel murder scene that winds and unwinds with regularity through the storyline. There’s also Cassie’s gradually changing last few days with her dying mother, a narrative element often played out through literal and metaphorical windows.
There are also nods to science fiction classics, including Blade Runner (it’s no coincidence that Cassie’s professor is named Deckard) and Momento (we keep reliving the same scene as it subtly changes throughout the film).Typical of the genre, however, the characters never actually talk about time travel movies or even much about the inherent paradoxes of time travel. These are more subtle nods in the script.
Ultimately, though, writer/director Kenneth Mader is just trying to hard to make Displacement a science fiction thriller that’s heavy on the science, and that gets in the way of a fun, enjoyable movie.
Is it worth watching anyway? Maybe. But there are so many other great time travel movies (see 12 Monkeys, Edge of Tomorrow, Primer and, of course, Back to the Future) that Displacement might be one to catch on cable or Netflix when it finishes the film festival circuit.