What would you do if you could see the future? The competent low-budget thriller Time Lapse follows three twenty-somethings who are investigating the mysterious disappearance of a neighbor when they happen on a huge contraption that shoots out a Polaroid at 8pm every night. The lens is pointed at their living room window, and though at first they don’t understand what they’re seeing, they soon realize that the camera takes a picture 24 hours into the future.

For a generation used to instantly capturing images on their smartphones, the time spent waiting for a Polaroid print to develop is almost as mysterious as looking into a crystal ball. Like the similarly low-key It Follows, this film watches technologically savvy 21st century youth face their elders’ antiquated machines, and each of the film’s three main characters responds to this glimpse of the future in their own way.

Finn (Matt O’Leary) is an artist struggling with a creative block, but the future Polaroid shows Finn his next painting before he paints it. Jasper (George Finn) is thrilled that tomorrow’s Polaroid shows a note listing the results of tomorrow’s horse races; he’s this film’s version of Back to the Future‘s Biff Tannen, using his secret knowledge to get rich. Callie (Danielle Panabaker) is Finn’s girlfriend, and she seems to be simply swept up by the future, riding along on whatever Finn and Jasper need to do to make the images they see into their actual futures.

Most films with a voyeuristic element are contrived; chances are if you’re peeking through any given window, you won’t find anything particularly exciting. The clairvoyant Polaroid occasionally captures something salacious but is mostly a conduit for messages from the friends’ future selves. But their meanings aren’t always easy to parse.

Time Lapse is the first feature for writer-director Bradley King, and his simple narrative conceit is a clever way to devise a science fiction film that doesn’t need much in the way of special effects, the sole effect being the charred body of the professor who created the fortune-telling camera. The camera is a simple device but a meaningful one, at once a cautionary tale for a generation used to instant gratification and a sad commentary on a generation uncertain of their future.

It’s not that easy to reverse-engineer your next 24 hours based on a photograph taken 24 hours from now, and what they see in the future is unsettling. The riches that Jasper acquires from his no-lose betting gets him in trouble with a bookie (Jason Spisak), and if the future makes him rich overnight, that wealth also accelerates Jasper’s disintegrating character. Callie, who seems like a passenger for the film’s first acts, grows more and more in control. The film then becomes not so much science fiction as a young adult chamber drama about what happens to three friends when something changes their lives. Competently acted and directed, Time Lapse isn’t a cinematic revelation, but it does see the future—a sobering picture of the future of today’s young people, flailing in a society that seems to give them limited options.

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