Time Crimes (Los Cronocrimenes) is a 2007 Spanish time travel film with strong horror themes. It has an intriguing premise with an ordinary man accidentally getting caught up in a time loop and fighting against predestination. It share many of the same themes as ‘Triangle’ and is worth seeking out.
Spoilers From Here On In!
Héctor lives with his wife in the Spanish countryside. While looking at the forest through binoculars he witnesses a young woman undressing. He goes to investigate only to be attacked and stabbed by a man with a bandaged face. Fleeing he stumbles into science lab and hides in a time machine.
Sent back to earlier that day Héctor (now referred to as Héctor 2) meets the scientist responsible for turning the time machine on and has the situation explained to him. In his attempt to get home he is involved in an accident and is forced to bandage his head.
Realising he is the menacing figure from earlier he threatens the young woman who comes to help him into undressing to lure Héctor 1 into the forest. After frightening his earlier incarnation to go to the lab he returns home only to see his wife fall to her death from the roof of his house.
Attempting to put things right Héctor 2 demands the scientist sends him back again, only to be told that the scientist has already been contacted by Héctor 3 who told him that his attempt failed and to prevent Héctor 2 from travelling back.
Desperate Héctor 2 forces the scientist to send him back anyway. The past is set but not everything is as it seems.
THE TIME TRAVEL
The mechanics of the time travel machine actually works aren’t explored in any great deal. It resembles a large bath tub with a large panel that slowly lowers down, forcing whoever is inside under the water. The occupant can then be sent to any point after the machine was first turned on (in this case in the morning earlier the same day), emerging from the liquid.
From the perspective of the scientist he turns the machine on and the same person emerges three times only seconds apart. This demonstrates the problem with a time machine that can only send people back as far as the machine was active. You’d immediately have to deal with all the people coming back to this point.
The fact that the scientist only has to deal with Héctor might suggest that no one enters the machine again after Héctor 2. It might be that he powers the machine down and a new anchor point is created next time it is powered up.
We are dealing with a fixed timeline in which all of the various Héctor’s actions have already been integrated into events. Before Héctor 1 enters the time machine he is receiving phone calls from Héctor 2 and will later be menaced by him. He would not have entered the time machine if not for the actions of his future self.
There are incidents of ontological paradoxes, in which Héctor 2 carries out actions because he witnessed them as Héctor 1. Héctor 2 and Héctor 3 are themselves examples of this type of paradox as they only exist due to the actions of their different incarnations.
When the time machine was turned on the laws of probability instantly created new Héctors to start the sequence of events, because that is the most likely thing to happen. The sheer variations in what might have occurred (for example if Héctor hadn’t been looking at the forest, hadn’t decided to investigate and hadn’t headed in the direction of the lab) could suggest that there is a sentient will that determines what WILL happen/happened.
There are no examples of true paradoxes and thus nothing that could be said to be evidence of chronal instability. Everything resolves itself. If the events lead to the time machine not being used in the future (either because it is to dangerous or following a police investigation) then this could be time removing the technology from the timeline.
TIME TRAVEL TRICKS
The most important thing for players to take away from this film is how to get around established facts. Just because they see or hear something it doesn’t mean that things happened the way they think it did. They can change things as long as their younger selves still experience what they did before.
The biggest example of this is the fate of Héctor’s wife. As Héctor 2 he believes that he witnesses his wife fall to her death. As Héctor 3 he cuts the young woman’s hair and puts her in his wife’s coat. It is she that Héctor 2 startles and causes her to plunge to her death. Nothing has changed, the facts are the same they just aren’t what Hector thought they were.
Another example is that Héctor 1 believes that the bandaged figure (Héctor 2) is able to find his hiding place in the forest with an almost supernatural ability, turning to look in his exact direction. In fact Héctor 2 has to do this several times before he finds where Héctor 1 is. All he knows is that he saw the figure do this and then Héctor 1 will eventually run in fear.
PCs are able to tweak facts and deceive their younger selves so that they can still achieve the result they want. For example they can save someone from being killed in a car accident as long as their younger self still believes that the person died. In effect they are conning themselves.
PCs should also question the source of information. Héctor 1 is informed by the scientist that the bandaged figure is right on his tail, leading him into the time machine. As Héctor 2 we find out that the scientist is lying in order to lure Héctor 1 into the machine. Here the facts haven’t changed, they were just never true.
PC and NPCs alike can spread disinformation. This could be a deliberate attempt to create space for changes to be made to history, someone just trying to protect their own interests or propaganda. If the PCs haven’t witnessed something for themselves their understanding events might not be correct.
Héctor 2 is able to manipulate Héctor 1 by concealing his identity. Not only are masks spooky they can be a time travellers best friend. It allows them to interact with others, even themselves, without those actions being traced back to themselves.
For the GM there are plenty of tricks here that can be used in predestination stories. Mysterious phone calls, abandoned vehicles and odd behaviour from NPCs can all foreshadow the involvement of the PCs in their own past. They don’t have to pay off but if the PCs do take advantage of the things you’ve put in place then it can make the adventure all the more satisfying.
When repeating the same events (shown here as the various Héctors live through the same day) you can use markers to signify both the passage of time and the immutability of events. Here it always rains and nothing the time traveller does will change that fact.
DANGERS OF TIME TRAVEL
The horror element of this film comes from the fact that Héctor appears to be trapped by predestination. As Héctor 2 he learns that everything that happened to him and has led to this point had to happen and there was no way to change it. When his wife apparently dies he is told that he has already gone back and Héctor 3 has said that the attempt will fail.
In this case he is able to influence events but this is still a good demonstration how time travel doesn’t free all time travellers but make them prisoners of their own fate. Each action they take only brings established events into being. PCs might experience this if they fail at tasks or could be demonstration of chronal instability (in effect removing their free will).
The scientist attempts to prevent Héctor 2 from travelling back at the request of Héctor 3. This is an example of how time travel can put a person in conflict with himself. PCs could find themselves trying to overcome obstacles placed in their way by their future selves or trying to dissuade their past selves.
In an early scene Héctor 2 reacts in horror to the existence of Héctor 1. From his perspective there is some imposter in his house with his wife and his immediate instinct is to warn her. The scientist has to explain the situation to him, including the fact that he is actually the duplicate.
Nonetheless PCs and other time travellers could experience similar reactions when encounter their past or future self. Even if they understand what is happening on an intellectual level they could still feel a sense of revulsion or fear. On a basic level that other person isn’t them.
At the conclusion it could be argued that Héctor 3 is making a sacrifice by substituting the young woman for his wife. From this perspective time could be portrayed as a monster, demanding that people have to die but not caring for their identity.
This can bring a stronger horror element to time travel, with the PCs and NPCs appeasing this force of nature. To save someone else would a PC be willing to kill someone else instead?
HÉCTOR AS AN ANTAGONIST
Héctor is an apparently ordinary person, overcome by the situation he finds himself in. Once he becomes Héctor 2 he is prepared to use threats of violence (and stab his earlier self) and by the time he is Héctor 3 he is willing to sacrifice another person’s life.
This could be due to desperation, the effect of travelling in time or evidence of concussion. Whatever the cause it shows how an inexperienced time traveller might behave. In trying to prevent or change events they end up causing them.
From the perspective of TimeWatch the whole sequence of events might not have happened in the original timeline. Once the time machine is turned on it creates this incident. Solving the problem is made more challenging as the multiple Héctors choke the timeline into a series of predestined events.
The experimental time machine could be obstacle that needs to be removed. Alternatively this technology might have eventually led to the autochron and if it is shutdown due to an investigation into Héctor’s actions TimeWatch could be erased.
The death of the young woman could have larger implications if she was supposed to do something important in the original timeline. Incidents like this could be seen as time travel traps, capturing anyone unlucky enough to be in their radius when the time machine is switched on.
HÉCTOR AS A TIMEWATCH AGENT
To prevent knowledge of time travel being spread TimeWatch agents could be sent to recruit Héctor, maybe in return for keeping his wife safe.
While his actions did cause many problems he showed an ability to improvise and avoided any paradoxes. This could make him a very useful field agent, able to deal with situations that seem impossible to manipulate. Care would have to be taken to ensure that he didn’t resort to violence.
Héctor possessed good social skills, able to charm and deceive. This could make him very useful when interacting with others.
TIME CRIMES AS A CAMPAIGN MODEL
Like ‘Primer’ if the PCs have the same time machine in this story, rather than an autochron, then the scope for adventure is limited to small timeframe and area.
You can still establish the feel of the film by having many events appear to be predestined. In the first act of the adventure the PCs encounter mysterious figures and learn or terrible things. In act 2 they find that they are responsible for much of what has happened. In act 3 they attempt to save someone or stop at least one thing from happening.
At the end Héctor 3 has saved his wife but is still expecting to be punished, someone has still died after all. There is a feeling that they must pay a price for interfering in the natural order of things. A downbeat campaign could impose similar punishment on PCs. Here no one gets away clean.
While ‘Time Crimes’ limits itself to one day your own campaign could cover much greater span of time. A PCs life might be filled with puzzles and mysteries. The deeper they dig the more they recognise their own handiwork. Soon they are chasing echoes of their future and past.
Not everything needs to be directly linked to the PCs and they don’t have to spend multiple sessions ensuring that they are responsible for events in previous adventures. There could be other parties involved, although they could have been influenced by things that the PCs will do.