Michael Ward on Thursday, August 15
The Opening Night Film of the 2019 North Bend Film Festival, The Incredible Shinking WKND is a time-loop movie which runs through its steps a bit differently than most may expect. The debut feature from writer/director Jon Mikel Caballero finds a fascinating approach to challenging storytelling conventions, while also manipulating our experience in watching his reality-based fantasy take place before us.
Alba (Iria del Río) and her five closest friends are off for a weekend getaway, staying in an old home she would visit with her family as a young girl. Though a huge place, the home is a bit dilapidated and Alba admits, upon arrival, she forgot to tell everyone there is no running water. Ever resourceful, the friends find ways to party nonetheless, and everyone settles in for a fun escape into the woods.
Along the way, something unexplainable happens. Pablo (Adam Quintero), Alba’s boyfriend of three years, decides he wants to end their relationship. “I need time…” he tells her. And as she reels from the news, she notices that everything around her has seemingly stopped. While she remains fully aware and lucid, no one else can move or appears aware they are frozen in place. A few moments later, she finds herself back in the passenger seat of the van, driven by Mark (Jimmy Castro), a joke about Alba always falling asleep occurs again and they arrive back at the home to begin the weekend.
It takes a while for the rules of this world to take shape, and as Alba tries to understand what is happening, we collectively recognize that whenever things reset, Alba is transported into the new loop, sans one hour of time, but her friends always return back to the same place they started from.
Caballero’s film is ambitious. His efforts to flip the Groundhog Day idea on its head works after awhile, especially when the movie focuses on Alba’s journey. His excursions into the lives of other characters often feel tacked on and under-developed. However, del Río is terrific in leading us through her character’s reflection and maturation.
For a film with thoughts rooted in fantasy and science-fiction, this is a surprisingly emotional, grounded work. Alba summons the courage to have hard conversations with Pablo, tries to rectify conflict with her father on the phone (voiced by Luis Tosar), and wrestles with recently turning 30, still living at home, and having apparently an aimless motivation in life.
On the one hand, a movie about a woman constantly trying to change everything about herself to appease others feels problematic. Yet, Caballero has no interest in Alba changing who she is. Rather, he uses the quickening of time as a metaphor for maturity, growth, and self-realization.
As time closes in on her, and the loops become shorter, Caballero employs a visual technique in presenting his story that proves both clever and unique, symbolizing much of what Alba is coming to terms with in loop after loop. And much like Alba, we are required to focus on what is front of us and determine for ourselves what matters and what does not.
A confident debut feature, The Incredible Shrinking WKND is a movie that will sneak up and surprise a lot of viewers, both with del Río’s great performance and the arrival of a new voice well worth paying attention to in international cinema.