Figure 1 – A most unusual camera.

Back in December, 1960, Rod Serling aired an episode (“A Most Unusual Camera”) on the TV show The Twilight Zone (Season 2, episode 10) about a pair of dimwits, Chester and Paula Diedrich, who burgled an antiques store and came away with a bunch of junk. In amongst the fakes reported to the police as genuine stolen antiques, they found an old box camera that at first didn’t excite them, but they accidentally found out that the camera was something special — it took “instant photos” from 5 minutes into the future! (“Instant”photos were nothing new, although there were — as far as I know — no box cameras (Figure 1) which took instant photos; the first Polaroid instant camera was unveiled in 1948!) Anyway, Serling wrote this episode about a pair of nitwits (and Chester’s nitwit brother) who try to use this camera to bet on the races. Let’s just say it didn’t end well; like I said, they were nitwits.

Figure 2 – A scene from the Twilight Zone episode “A Most Unusual Camera.”

Moving on to 2014, and what seems to be an updated version of this episode. (Not sure if the writers, Bradley King and BP Cooper, have actually seen that episode. People do come up with similar ideas all the time.) I didn’t see this movie when it first came out; but now I have, so that’s why I’m reviewing it now. (One of the reasons I seldom review brand-new SF/F movies is that there are so many people already reviewing them. Sometimes my “take” is different enough that I feel comfortable reviewing brand-new movies — or sometimes I’m just very excited by a new movie and simply have to share! But there are way too many movies for any one person to see every movie in our genre [SF/F]). This is an independent movie, financed entirely by the principals, according to IMDB; it does appear that they used their budget wisely.

Here’s the setup for Time Lapse (Figure 3): Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and Finn (Matt O’Leary) are lovers, who share an apartment with Jasper (George Finn), who’s a gambling addict and general layabout, but Finn’s best friend. Finn is a painter (fine art, not house), but he’s blocked. Hasn’t painted much for quite a while; he lives free (we’re guessing) in this apartment complex because he is the maintenance man; he winces when a woman (Mrs. Anderson, played by Judith Drake) whose toilet he has to unblock, tells him she told her friend that she has a maintenance man who “used to be a painter.” But he can’t contradict her. His friend Jasper, who seems to do nothing but lie around watching the dog races on TV or playing video games, does things like try to divine the winner of this afternoon’s dog race with the help of a “crystal ball” he picked up at a yard sale. Needless to say, his pick doesn’t win. From conversation, it appears that Callie waitresses for a living, but since she’s always in this movie, I’m guessing she doesn’t do it a lot. The apartment complex has a security guy, “Big Joe” (Amin Joseph), who appears to get along well with Finn. He even helps Finn bring up some chairs from the basement storage for an engagement party Finn and Callie are planning for some friends. While he is down there, Finn notices a nice little fedora (man’s hat) sitting on the floor near one of the storage units (#8), and hangs it on the unit’s doorhandle. He doesn’t remark on it, but we notice that the storage unit is iron banded — unlike the other units, which have plain wooden doors — and has four separate locks! (Finn says that a previous tenant, or manager — I forget which — had the storage unit fixed up like that.)

Figure 3 – Time Lapse poster.

One day Mrs. Anderson calls Finn and says she hasn’t heard from Mr. Bezzerides for a while, and would he please go check on him. (Mr. Bezzerides was played by John Rhys-Davies, and apparently all his scenes were cut. There is an apology to him from the filmmakers in the end titles.) Also, “Big Joe” says there are several parking tickets on Mr. Bezzerides’s car, so Callie goes over to his apartment — which is directly across from theirs; in fact, his front window faces their front window — and knocks on the door. There is no answer. Finn has given her the keys, so she goes inside. Shortly thereafter, she calls the others in to tell them what she has discovered — Mr. B’s wall is covered with Polaroid photos of their window; literally rows of them! (They apparently have never put their blinds down, so most of the photos show the inside of their apartment.) There is a large machine — with a lens — facing the window, about the size of a furnace; that is apparently the camera with which Mr. B has been taking these photos. (“Why is it bolted to the floor?” Jasper wonders. I don’t think that was ever covered in the movie, actually. My theory is that it’s necessary to keep the photos sharp and focused.) While the three of them are in Mr. B’s apartment, the camera flashes, and out from a slot on the side pops a Polaroid photo — there are cases and cases of Polaroid film in the apartment (which is good, because Polaroid stopped making that film shortly before they declared Chapter 11 and went bankrupt). The photo is of their apartment, naturally, and the odd thing is that it shows people in their apartment at the engagement party that’s being held tomorrow!

Figure 4 – Another most unusual camera.

Well, to shorten the review somewhat — this will be a shorter review than usual, because we are getting ready to travel to Seattle next weekend (Easter weekend) for Norwescon — they figure that the camera takes pictures every 24 hours on a timer, and the pictures are of 24 hours in the future. Finn and Callie think this is interesting, but Jasper says to himself “Aha! Guess what? I’m gonna get rich!” He tells the other two that he can use this facility to make a bunch of money on the races. More on that in a minute. The three discover that Mr. B owns the mysterious storage unit #8, and Finn opens the door, only to discover Mr. B’s charred-looking corpse lying on the floor — he’s been there approximately a week. Finn and Callie want to report this to the police, but Jasper talks them into waiting. This particular storage unit is pretty much hermetically sealed, and once the door is closed, nobody can smell the dead body… and there’s all that money to be made betting on the races. They wait 24 hours, and sure enough, there’s a photo of their apartment, this time with a painting on the easel — and the race results posted on the window. They theorize that it is necessary to make everything look like it does in the photo — and not forgetting to actually place the bet with Jasper’s bookie — or they’ll wind up as dead as Mr. B. “You don’t [mess] with Time,” Jasper says solemnly.

Figure 5 – Mr. B is definitely dead!

So Jasper places the bets — and wins! — and they figure out how to pose exactly as the photo shows, and they continue doing this for several days. Callie moves Mr. B’s car so he doesn’t get more tickets; they start watering his plants and telling everyone he’s in the hospital, and Finn’s painting block is finished — all he has to do is copy his own paintings, right? But then, things start getting complicated. And here, dear readers, I must leave you, for fear of giving too much away. There are twists that aren’t too hard to guess from here, and a very interesting ending. There’s an interesting real-life side-note about the Polaroid photos — they’re actually simulated, since Polaroid no longer makes that film. But because Polaroid film is hard to find, the movie’s art department had to fake hundreds of Polaroids by shooting digital photos, color-correcting them in Photoshop to look like instant Polaroids, cutting the insides out of old Polaroids they got on EBay, and then sliding the printed digital pictures into the instant film cutouts. Ingenious. I actually kind of enjoyed this film, but I think it only deserves about a mid-rating, because of the predictability factor. So I will officially rate it: RATING: 3.5¤.

Figure 6 – AI Storybundle covers

FINAL WORDS: Lisa Mason has curated another Storybundle, this one about Artificial Intelligence. If you like cheap — dang near free — ebooks, you should pick this one up. As usual, it’s “pay what you like” and if you pay over a certain amount, there’s a bonus. Lisa says: “The A.I. Storybundle is live but only for two more weeks until April 20, 2017! Pay what you want for the core bundle, unlock the bonus books, donate to charity. Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura R. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today for the Spring, only at!”

If you liked this column, please comment on it (or if you hated it!). You can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column, if you have trouble commenting here (we’ve had some occasional issues with registration). Your comments are all welcome, positive and negative — and you don’t have to agree with me to comment. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. I might not be here next week, as I’m getting ready for Seattle’s Norwescon. But I’ll see you soon for sure!

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  1. I was unaware of this film until reading of it in your review. At first, there were some “B-movie!” alarm bells ringing, given that a) I’d never heard of it, and b) the opening scene had that feel to it (something about lighting, film stock…). For the first 10 minutes or so, I was dubious. But it got good! It drew me in. Once the initial premise was revealed, the do-we-or-don’t-we-call-the-police issue was resolved, my sense was that this was going to be like one of those YouTube videos of a massive cargo ship that can’t stop and is going to smash into something; of course we’re going to watch. The actors got better over time as well; I think perhaps they settled into the characters; all three were very good. I won’t give away any plot details, but someone wrote that the ending was flawless; I concur. Great score, too!

    1. You know, Ryan, my wife made the comment during the opening that it really had the “indy” feel to it–same things you mentioned: lighting, film stock, camera angles. But like you, we kind of got sucked in. Which, I think, is the mark of a good movie, indie or not. Thanks for reading/commenting!

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