Director: Michael Hurst
Cast: Zoë Bell, Malik Yoba, Adam Huss, Bjørn Alexander, Brian Flaccus
Watch Paradox online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Wondering how to fill the time travel gap now that Travelers and Timeless have been cancelled? Then transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursdays, our column devoted to time travel movies on Netflix. It’s on Thursdays.
Written and directed by Michael Hurst, Paradox earns immediate points for efficiency with a great opening sequence, in which a panicked-looking man (Michael Aaron Milligan) leaves a phone message for his boss, saying “If you come into the lab, we all die”. Moments later, he’s shot by a mysterious, all-in-black, gas mask-wearing killer, establishing that Paradox will essentially be a blend of time travel and slasher movie.
The exposition then becomes a lot clumsier, as a group of scientists (including Zoe Bell as Gale and Adam Huss as Jim) assemble outside a secret lab, where they’re observed by a pair of FBI agents on a stake-out. The agents helpfully provide introductions to each of the characters, the main take-away being that one of them is an undercover cop.
Once inside the secret lab, the scientists travel deep into the basement, where they have assembled a prototype time machine for their boss, Mr Landau (Malik Yoba). Jim is chosen to test the time machine and is sent one hour into the future, but when he arrives there, he finds most of his colleagues slaughtered and the lab set to self-destruct, so he travels back an hour earlier, in order to warn everyone. They quickly work out that the killer must be one of them, since no-one else has access to the lab.
Paradox is nothing if not ambitious. In addition to the slasher and murder mystery elements, Hurst has the final act unfold in something close to real time, as the scientists have sixty minutes before everything Jim saw in the future comes true. An inspired additional element is added in the form of a video camera that Jim takes from dying, wheelchair-bound colleague Lewis (Bjorn Alexander) in the future – once back in the present, Lewis is instructed to keep filming, while also examining the semi-scrambled recording for clues as to who the killer might be. The way the present and future keep repeating via the recording is one of several nice touches, as is the way the various moments repeat, with Back to the Future II a clear reference point.
Essentially, by showing us a number of things that happen in the future, the film sets out a series of dots that need to be joined up for the timeline to make sense. This is a classic time travel trope and it’s one that, thankfully, Hurst is fully aware of – whatever the film’s flaws, the plotting is extremely satisfying and the various twists pack a punch even if you’ve successfully guessed the killer’s identity. The ending, in particular, has a nice little kick to it.
However, while the plotting is sound, other elements are less successful. The performances are a mixed bag, with a number of wandering accents and the scientists never convincing as a group of people who’ve been working together deep underground for months. Similarly, Bell and Huss have zero chemistry, so the subplot involving their relationship falls painfully flat.
The dialogue is also patchy in places (all the swearing seems self-conscious, rather than natural), though there are a handful of decent exchanges, particularly between Milligan’s character Randy (who warns against creating paradoxes) and hapless security guard Van Lang (Steve Suh), who has, for some reason, been allowed down to the top secret basement for the first time, without having a clue about what he was guarding in the first place.
Though Hurst makes a virtue of his limited locations, the film’s low budget is most in evidence when it comes to the effects. The time travel effects are the usual combination of coloured lightning flashes and what might be termed the standard time travel noise (see also: the lightning flashes in The Terminator), but the explosions are downright awful and look like they were knocked up in five minutes on a laptop. Similarly, the gore effects look too comical to achieve the desired impact – one moment in particular ought to be horrific, but it’s rendered laughable by poor effects work.
As for the fight scenes, they’re largely fine, but they just feel like an excuse for the production to get their money’s worth out of Zoe Bell, since that’s what she’s known for. To that end, she doesn’t disappoint, delivering a handful of nicely staged smackdowns, but she’s never really given a worthy opponent, so it all feels a bit one-sided.
In short, Paradox is a little rough around the edges and could have done with slightly pacier direction, but it ticks the relevant time travel boxes in satisfying fashion. File under flawed, but fun.