As I have stated in prior reviews (here, here), I like time travel films quite a bit. And, as I said, I really like time travel movies where shit fucks up...bad. Today’s film is the first film that I think of when I think “bad time travel”. Today’s film is The Butterfly Effect.
As you can guess by the title of the film, The Butterfly Effect uses a more chaos theory based mechanic for its take on time travel, and, much like that turn of phrase, it does not shy away from negative consequences. In fact, I can’t think of a single positive consequence to any of the time travel. In fact, just think of this as the anti Quantum Leap – instead of putting right what once went wrong, the wrong is just made even wronger for everyone involved.
Ashton Kutcher (I know, stick with me, dude is actually good – damn good, in fact) plays Evan Treborn, who finds out that he can travel back into past moments of his life to try and change them. Unfortunately, every time he tries to change an aspect of his quite fucked up childhood (or that of his girlfriend, Kaylee – Aimee Smart) not only does he end up fucking up the present for all involved, but ends up doubling, tripling and quadrupling the memories stored within his brain – causing himself physical and psychological harm. Eventually, he realises that he is the cause for all the badness in both he and Kaylee’s lives, and that’s when the cinematic and director’s cuts differ. So Evan travels back in time to the day he and Kaylee first meet as children, then acts like a complete jerk to her, putting paid to their friendship before it begins, putting them both on different life paths. Accidentally crossing paths in NYC, they have a slight spark of recognition, and then the film ends. So Evan travels back in time to when he was still in the womb, and chokes himself to death with his umbilical cord, thus making sure Kaylee and his friends can never meet him at all.
As you may have guessed, this is one incredibly dark, some would even say depressing film. It really has it all – psychological screw ups, drug addiction, incest, beatings, rape, prostitution, prison; to the point where some people could say, with good point, that the writer and director intentionally tried to cross that bleakness line. And yes, I will admit, there are a couple of points that cross from dark to ludicrous. But ultimately, it manages to stay on the “damn, that is some fucked up shit” side of things. Thankfully due to the actors involved; like I said, it’s really Ashton Kutcher’s high point as an actor, having never been as good before or since; but Aimee Sweet is always a good watch (she’ll never be in line for an Oscar, but she’s always a welcome addition to any cast). The rest of the cast is also great, Melora Walters and Callum Keith Rennie put in small but darn good performances as Evan’s folks and the keys to his power, Eric Stoltz as Kaylee’s father has never been slimier (and I would go so far as to call him one of the best slimeballs in movies). However, the surprise performance of the film goes to Jessie James, who plays Kaylee’s brother in their teen years – he is just plain frightening.
If you can let some jumps in psychology, genetic makeup and time travel rules slide, you’ll get a pretty decent watch. Just stay away from the sequels, which are just plain bad.