We have a mysterious cave. We have a university professor who goes missing while exploring. We have some university students (plus two high-schoolers) who try to find him. And we have time moving at a different rate inside the cave.
It’s not a great film, by any stretch. Directing and acting are competent, but certainly nothing great about either. Time travel movies are a dime a dozen. However, the plot, and the idea of this plot, is something I thought was excellent, because even the makers of this film didn’t seem to have grasped just how frightening this concept is. Obviously, there will be spoilers.
We find out quite early that there’s something funny about the cave. The professor, standing at the entrance of the cave, sees inside a man facing away from him, in a cowboy outfit. The man does not move, even when the professor calls out to him. When the professor enters the cave, the man starts to move away from him. He follows.
Cut to a few days later when the students decide to go looking for the professor, who hasn’t returned. They find their way to the cave, entering by a different way where they have to climb down via a rope, leaving one of the high-schoolers at the top. They immediately lose contact with him, and soon find that the ropes are broken when they try to climb back up. They believe they have been cut, though this turns out not to be the case. Things go from bad to worse.
In slow degrees, they work out what is going on. After they find the boy they left up the top, dead after falling when he tried to climb down a different way, and watch a video he was making, they realise something is odd, as he is recording for over a day while they have been in the cave half an hour. Then one of the girls free climbs back out of the cave, and finds a wasteland, the air is thin and hard to breath, and she sees some kind of space station in the sky. They decide the flickering light they see from the exit to the caves is the passing of days, but then finally realise it is the passing of years. And here is where the horror comes in – by the time they realize what is happening, not only their family, their friends, but their entire civilization is already gone. It is already way too late for them to return to anything like the life they knew. This is absolutely terrifying. There is no mechanism, so no reversal. They are just hurtling forward in time at a terrifying rate.
There ends up a collection in the caves from different points of human history – a group of prehistoric people (who unfortunately have a tendency to kill anyone they don’t know without asking questions), Spanish conquistadors looking for the fountain of youth, a cowboy, a hippie couple and their daughter (who turn out to be the professor’s missing parents and sister), the professor and the students, and, a little later, a future human (who could no longer breathe the air they were breathing). This person supplies the helpful information that a pool in the caves can heal, and even revive the dead. All of these people are able to coexist because of the slow passage of time in the caves compared to outside. All of these people have lost everything that was familiar to them. This takes the ‘fish out of water’ idea to horrifying new lengths. These people did not go in thinking they were in a survival situation. How are you going to eat and drink? How are you going to cope mentally, knowing you are not able to ever go home? How are you going to survive, and is survival even worth it?
There are flaws in the plot, most definitely. The future human is able at the push of a button, to summon news reports from their time about their disappearance. This would be news local to an area, possibly national, but would not have been a huge news story for too long. People go missing all the time. Why would that information have been preserved? Why would this person have access to this information? How did he know that the water in the pool could heal? None of this is explained. But the biggest flaw is the way the film is ended, and it is unfortunate, because it ruined an otherwise reasonable film and absolutely ignored the consequences of the plot that I’ve just been talking about.
For some reason, the entrance to the cave is connected to some sort of space ship (alien? Evolved human? We don’t know). These people fish out all the young people, including the dead teenager (revived by the magic pool), the professor (who also was killed, but revived by the magic pool), and his parents and sister (again revived by the magic pool). However, the cave people, conquistadors, and the future human were not so lucky. So to begin with this is a very selective choice by the aliens. The aliens are barely seen and certainly not explained in any way. Finally, the youngsters at the end are all very happy and positive about their situation and their future. One has to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop, and reality is going to set in. The mental distress from their horrific experience has to be dealt with, and the film brushes it off with a chirpy, upbeat ending.
“Time Trap” is one of those movies that has a great concept, which isn’t really given the full development it deserves. I would very much like to see this concept redone with more depth given to the plight in which the characters find themselves. In the end, it’s one of those films I find frustrating, wanting more than it manages to give.