Timestalker: A hilarious time-leaping love story from Alice Lowe | SXSW 2024 review - SciFiNow

Timestalker: A hilarious time-leaping love story from Alice Lowe | SXSW 2024 review

Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars in this hilarious time-leaping story of a woman stuck in a repeat cycle of bad romance.


“What time is it?” asks Agnes (Alice Lowe) near the beginning of Timestalker – and her question is immediately, if somewhat vaguely, answered by an intertitle that appears on screen, to the accompaniment of portentous music, stating that it is the year 1688. As its very title implies, writer/director Lowe’s feature is about time, following the same ensemble of actors, and – mutatis mutandis – the same constellation of characters, across different eras. Time and again, Agnes will fall hopelessly for Alex (Aneurin Barnard), and die violently in her head-over-heels amatory pursuit of the wrong ’un, always liberating him, if never herself – only to be reborn in a subsequent period (1793, 1847, 1940, 1980, 2117) to repeat the whole infernal cycle.

There is something of Max Ophül’s La Ronde (1950) to all these recurring episodes – for while Agnes’ erotomaniacal fixation on Alex is never reciprocated, she herself spurns the deep love of her maid/friend Meg (Tanya Reynolds), while repeatedly settling for the aggressive non-charms of George (Nick Frost) without ever requiting his bestial feelings for her, and largely ignoring the advice of sometime servant/sometime manager/always side player Scipio (Jacob Anderson). This is an iterative universe where everyone is frustrated and disappointed, and where the more things change, the more they stay the same – and while Agnes appears to be at its centre, we are constantly aware that characters in her orbit have their own stories also running on repeat.

From the giant digital heart with which it opens, to the pinkish red canary which alights on that heart before fluttering away and finding itself variously caged or freed across the film’s different chronologies, to the bright pink credits, Timestalker is not coy about its preoccupations with matters of love and lust – yet as the second half of the title makes clear, this is not love of a healthy variety, but rather amour fou, with the infatuated Agnes pursuing Alex, and George occasionally pursuing Agnes, like deluded stalkers (in the long Eighties sequence, both Agnes and George keep a “serial killer’s mood board” of photos depicting the respective objects of their affections).

Here love traps, love depresses, love even kills – and as different versions of Agnes pratfall their way through similar scenarios, while occasionally having glimpses (in montage) of their other lives both past and future, romance itself is revealed to be a dangerous, destructive force that drives its otherwise average, small-c conservative victim into acts of extremity and excess that are less transformative than merely toxic.

As such, Timestalker deconstructs its own genre, comically exposing romance as something ruinous, rooted in bodily urges, deranged fancies and perverse longings. Here we see the many moods of bad romance, as Agnes’ obsessions are variously figured as religious fanaticism, flirtation with criminality and pop fandom (for a ‘new romantic’). She yearns for change, but where she might have channeled her desires into genuinely revolutionary causes, instead, ever the fool in the tarot deck of destiny, she focuses her attentions with tunnel vision on an ‘edgy’ outsider (whether a heretic, a highwayman, or a has-been musical idol) who she imagines will emancipate her from her circumstances through sheer blazing passion – while he at best ignores her, or at worst exploits her for his own escape. Only when she begins to see Alex more clearly for who he really is does he occupy the decidedly less sexy professions of SS officer and riot cop.

Here reincarnation, presented both in spiritual and psychological terms, allows Agnes’ character ever so gradually to develop and evolve over several centuries. The film too had a long period of gestation, conceived six years ago, only for its production to be interrupted by Lowe’s second pregnancy (the first coincided with her ‘foetus fatale’ feature debut Prevenge, 2016) and then by Covid. So it is merely a fluke of fate that this is being released at roughly the same time as Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast (La Bête, 2023), which shares its thematic concern with metempyschosis and multiple mirroring timelines. They are similar films, and would in fact make an excellent double feature.

Yet what distinguishes Timestalker is just how very funny it is – so funny, in fact, that to reflect properly on all its immense thoughtfulness on questions of personal identity, free will and determinism, fatalism and self-actualisation, the viewer may need some time.

Timestalker had its world première at SXSW 2024