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Time Addicts review: a wonderful ride on time

Drifter addicts travel through time thanks to some magic meth in this wickedly fun Melbourne-shot film.

With Christmas fast approaching, the ‘joys’ of the season are all too often intermingled with the creeping dread stress of complicated mess, even for the happiest of families. While Melbourne-based Kiwi filmmaker Sam Odlum’s darkly comic debut feature isn’t set on 25 December, it sure does mess with familial bonds in a trippy time travelling tale that will keep you on your toes tying up the loose ends.

Expanding on Odlum’s 2020 short of the same name, it casts Freya Tingley and Charles Grounds as drifter addict frenemies Denise and Johnny. Sketching around the shadier corners of Thornbury’s fraying edges, hurling increasingly comical abuse at each other while hunting for their next fix, their bickering banter soon brings them face-to-face with Joshua Morton’s big bad face-tatted dealer Kane.

Unimpressed by their mounting debts and diminished ability to clear them, Kane offers them an out: head to a creepy, dilapidated old house and steal a bag of crystal meth. Just don’t, whatever you do, try the merchandise.

So, of course, bleach blond chancer Johnny immediately huffs a puff after rather unchivalrously leaving Denise to bravely extract the goods from the arms of a slumbering, hooded homeless guy. And then he promptly disappears in a poof of shimmering gold sparkles only to reappear, sans Denise, in the same spot around 30 years earlier in 1995.

Back to the Future meets Breaking Bad

Yup, somehow the drugs transport users backwards or forwards through time, with Time Addicts presenting the wibbly-wobbly mash-up of Back to the Future and Breaking Bad you never knew you needed. This also explains the creepily dystopian opening sequence featuring a gas-masked and protective suit-wearing figure stalking through a wasteland of weeds scored with ominous synths by West of Sunshine composer James Orr.

Turns out the venal politicians of today didn’t get their act together on net zero – surprise, surprise – and gifted Melbourne in 2053 toasty days of 50+ degrees with a front of skin-melting radiation.

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But this is no sweeping environmental dystopia akin to Blade Runner, with most of the story playing out within the confines of the same old dilapidated and abandoned home. While trying to figure out the strange bumps and screams emanating from its old bones and why their surroundings seem to subtly shift in unnerving ways, including the appearance of bloody handprints on the walls, Denise and Johnny are forced to confront not only their connection to one another, but also to their past and future selves and those nearest if not necessarily dearest in a nifty chamber piece.

This deftly stitched but seemingly anarchic ‘fairy tale for cunts’ oscillates between stoner jokes and affecting catharsis via snatches of horror movie magic. Elise Janssen, who appears briefly in Late Night With the Devil, plays sketchy ex-cop Tracey, who resides in the abode in ’95a and thinks nothing of seducing Johnny at gunpoint when he pops up out of nowhere. When Denise shows up too, things get complicated pretty quickly, and that’s before a rampaging Kane starts skipping the light years fantastic too.

DiCaprio cameo

The least said about how this all ties together and who is who to whom in the grand scheme of things, the better. Odlum’s screenplay teases out tantalising clues. While its compact setting keeps things tight, Marcus Cropp’s eerie cinematography and Bianca Milani’s layered production design lend the setting remarkable depth, all half-seen figures skulking in the shadows and distorted mirror glimpses amplified by spot-on lighting that captures the house’s alternate timeframes expertly.

Even if they are a little too clean-looking for down and outs, Tingley and Grounds make for a fabulous duo as their irascible but actually pretty sweet double act is forced to get higher and higher in an effort to navigate the crossed timelines and set things right without accidentally erasing their own existence. Because, obviously, scrambled destiny is best handled by the deleteriously drug-fucked.

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Top marks go to Grounds as Johnny, observing a knock-off oil painting on the walls, responds to a strung-out Tracey that he’s just ‘admiring the DiCaprio’.

With a hint of Hugh Sullivan’s similarly wickedly fun misadventure The Infinite Man, Time Addicts revels in its paradoxical conundrums as each of the quartet tries to get even and/or everyone in the right time and place. Odlum’s amusingly acerbic feature debut shows oodles of promise, feigning deceptively dumb but landing on a smart-as resolution. Keeping you guessing whether everyone makes it home or not for Christmas (or any other date), this wild ride through time and tide waits for no-one.

Time Addicts is in cinemas from 7 December.