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(Ben Foster and Mark Dennis’s low budget science fiction film Time Trap is in theaters now before hitting digital platforms on November 13.)

I always admire indie films that tackle big-budget subjects and mostly pull it off, whatever their flaws. Time Trap, from Mark Dennis and Ben Foster (makers of Strings), offers viewers an intriguing premise supported by a solid ensemble cast that frequently entertains, even if it can’t quite sustain the narrative from start to finish. In the attempt, the film earns major points for ambition, if not for consistent execution.

Andrew Wilson (Druid Peak) plays college professor Harper, who vanishes one day while investigating the mystery of a long-lost family. We see him enter a mountain cave whose opening contains a shimmering barrier of moist air. As Hopper looks within, he catches a glimpse of a man, seemingly frozen in mid-stride, whose gait speeds up with every step Hopper takes further inside. After him he goes, forever changing his own life in ways he can’t imagine.

Cut to two days later, when Hopper’s teaching assistants – Taylor (Reiley McClendon, Alien Outpost) and Jackie (Brianne Howey, E.T.X.R.) – grow concerned over his extended absence and decide to travel to his last known location. Along the way, they gather a few others, including Taylor’s object of attraction Cara (Cassidy Gifford, Sorority Nightmare), her younger sister Veeves (Olivia Draguicevich) and Veeves’ friend Furby (Max Wright). The script is a little hazy on why this particular full crew – including two underage kids – needs to be brought together, but they make an appealing bunch, nonetheless.

From their departure we cut to Hopper again, whose emergence from the cave after just a few moments reveals a world transformed by a seemingly impossible passage of time; and so is presaged the central enigma of the story. When Taylor, Jackie and company arrive at the spot where Hopper left his vehicle, we know it’s probably not the best of ideas for them to follow their mentor, but then there would be no movie. The plot must go on.

By the time the film moves full bore into the cave, we have a pretty good sense – from what has come before and, of course, the title – that there’s a temporal shift that occurs below ground, though the question remains of just how long that shift may be. A towering rock chimney to the outside reveals a constantly cycling flash of light. Are these days, weeks, months or more? Only time will tell, it seems.

Dennis and Foster hold our interest throughout, but the ending feels rushed, especially since they make the mistake of hinting at scenarios that could have been better explored with a bigger budget. I love some of their ideas, including the many layers of geologic and human history that collide in the magical cave, but at the end I was left wanting many of those particular threads explored, rather than the pat and, frankly, somewhat unsatisfying conclusion we get. Still, let’s give kudos for trying. For what it is, Time Trap delivers almost 90 minutes of appealing lo-fi sci-fi.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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