Time travel movies give their heroes a chance to set right what once went wrong. But in the subset of time loop movies, the hero's quest often demands more than chasing down clues and connecting the dots to save the day or stop the clock from repeating. In movies like Groundhog Day, Before I Fall, Happy Death Day, and Edge of Tomorrow, the hero must also grow as a person to escape from the loop. Often this means finding love, learning selflessness, and enacting self-sacrifice. But in the Spanish sci-fi gem The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, it also means mastering the art of adulting.
Spoilers ahead for The Incredible Shrinking Wknd.
Written and directed by Jon Mikel Caballero, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd centers on Alba (Iria del Río), who is freshly 30 and deeply unhappy about it. Still living with her dad and partying every night, she's the scowling sister of the manchild, a grown-up who flees from any threat of maturity or responsibility. A weekend getaway with friends seems the perfect time to push away the adult responsibilities that she fears. And what better place than the remote cabin where she frolicked as a girl? It's fun at first, with some lively dinner conversation, karaoke, and much drinking. But Alba can't escape change.
During the weekend, she and her boyfriend Pablo (Adam Quintero) will break up over her fear of commitment. Making matters worse, Alba learns that her married friends Mark (Jimmy Castro) and Claudia (Irene Ruiz) are expecting a baby and planning to move away for work. Walking alone through the woods where she buried treasure in her youth, perhaps Alba wished for the world to stop, wished those she loved couldn't leave her. One moment she's alone, wading in a creek. Then the waters, the wind, everything around her, stops. Just like that, she awakes at the beginning of the trip, back in the passenger's seat of the car, heading with her friends to the cabin as if the weekend never happened.
While other time loop movies feature their anti-hero freaking out at such a discovery, Alba's not concerned, maybe confused. She did have a lot to drink. Hangovers can get weird, she seems to shrug. But soon, she's figured out the loop, and rather than panic, she revels. In a time loop, no one can abandon her, and she can party night after night after night. This is her Neverland, a temporal island far from the demands of growing up. So, Alba turns the tables on Pablo by abruptly dumping the baffled beau, hurting him the way he hurt her. She ignores her married friends, instead choosing to hang with her younger pals who are into drinking, hard drugs, sexual exploration, and Youtube stardom. She strolls through these loops, initially ignoring that they aren't as consequence-free as she might dream. While her friends are reset to remember nothing of the past loops, her hangovers don't reset. If she gets a bruise or wound, it'll be there when she pops back to the beginning. The reckless fun of time-loop begins to sour as her body strains under the stress of her childish impulses. Worse yet, Alba realizes she's losing time. Each go-around, the weekend is one hour shorter.
As her time shrinks, so does the film's aspect ratio. Its horizontal edges slip inward, leaving growing black bars on the edge of the screen. At first, it's so subtle you don't notice. But before long you can't ignore it. Visually, it adds tension, giving a constant reminder that Alba's time is running out. Symbolically, it speaks to how her lifestyle is shrinking her world. Choices like dumping Pablo, lashing out at Claudia, and making out with one of the younger couples, makes her increasingly isolated. To escape it, she must mature. Like the time-loopers of movies past, she must learn to see beyond her own needs and risk her heart by opening up to others. She begins by attempting a romantic gesture that takes the form of a DIY shower pump. She considers how little things, like having a beer, snatching a kiss, or lending an ear may have a much greater impact than she'd ever realized. But Alba grows frustrated and panicked, as her efforts don't stop the looping.
In the final act, Alba is trapped between two swaths of black empty screen that speak to the swallowing temporal abyss that threatens her. But her focus is on Pablo, the man she could love if she dared to try. After much childishness, selfishness, pettiness and many mistakes, she takes him to the river where the loops began. It's not a grand romantic gesture that will change things. It's not mimicking the cozy couple's behavior of her married friends or giving up all the careless joys of their partying pals. It's a compromise, and a terrifying and tender conversation, a heart-to-heart where the couple lay bare their wants, fears and needs to each other. She says, "I don’t want to be someone who has everything planned and calculated." He says, "I don't want to live with a constant hangover." But more than speaking, they listen. In doing so, they break out of their rut and its cycle of resentments. They break out of the loop and move forward, together.
In The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, Caballero doesn't offer a wacky romp or a rousing adventure. There's little urgency to Alba's journey and few jokes. Instead, he considers the paralyzing terror of seeing yourself as an adult. By stepping into adulthood, you accept there are mistakes you can't undo, consequences you can't brush off. You recognize not every night is a party. You recognize that relationships demand and deserve work to be maintained. By following Alba through these revelations, Caballero takes the time loop trope into the tender space of coming-of-age dramas. He gives us a woman-child anti-hero who is complicated, charismatic, and compelling, plus a fantasy that is ever timely.
The Incredible Shrinking Wknd made its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival.