Released: 17th May
Seen: 8th August
The concept of Time Travel in cinema is one of the most fun and irritating plot concepts we’ve ever come up with. Fun because it allows us to explore history and do variants of “Person from today is stuck in the past” stories that present a fish out of water narrative. Irritating because, every single time it happens, people try to logic the hell out of the time travel and explain why it wouldn’t work that way as though time travel was an actual thing and not a storytelling device meant to act as the most threadbare framework for an actual story. This was evidenced earlier this year with Endgame where people ignored the larger story about acknowledging the past of an entire universe of characters and showing the drastic change and growth of everyone involved and instead said “Actually it makes no sense that they all travelled like that, time travel doesn’t work that way” in a whiny high pitched voice, not unlike Urkel with his testicles in a vice. In case it isn’t obvious, I do not care if the Time Travel element doesn’t make sense because it never has to. It is a variation on the MAGIC SCIENCE that was used in Happy Death Day 2U and nothing more. Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s talk about one of the newest entries into the Time Travel genre and the first Netflix film since Someone Great that actually got a reaction out of me.
See You Yesterday follows the hyper-intelligent C.J. Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith), a science major who could have her pick of colleges and is one of the best science students in school. Along with her friend Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), C.J. has been working on creating a time machine and finally has a prototype that works but only for 10 minutes before it pulls the wearer back into the present. This opens up a whole long list of opportunities but when C.J.’s brother Calvin (Brian Bradley) dies from a police shooting, she decides to try and use her scientific discovery to try and go back to save her brother, no matter what it takes.
What works best about this film is that it doesn’t shy away from the reality it’s talking about. This is a film that is taking the current day horror of racist police officers shooting unarmed black men and looking at it through a science fiction lens, throwing in a character who might be able to stop it from happening but who always seems to be just one step too late. Every chance this film can get to hold the police to account, it does it. It calls them out for the shooting of unarmed black men, it calls them out for how long they take to react to emergencies, it calls them out for harassment of black people who dare to live their lives like anyone else. Honestly, the most harrowing scene in the movie is when the brother and sister are arguing in the street and a pair of cops come up to them and start demanding their Ids, an event that happens so often that I’d be stunned if there isn’t video of it circulating around Twitter within 72 hours of this post going live. This film exists in that world where this is an issue that keeps getting worse and tackles it head-on and I respect the hell out of it for that.
While it’s tackling this insanely heavy topic, it does it with a genuinely superb cast. Eden Duncan-Smith is a powerful lead who will undoubtedly end up doing so many bigger things that I can’t wait to see, she has a presence that demands you pay attention to her every second she’s on-screen. Then there’s Dante Crichlow in his first feature film role and he’s such a naturally likable guy that he just brings a smile to your face… or will devastate you during one particularly shocking moment towards the beginning of the third act when everything goes haywire. Every one of the impressive side cast elevates this work and provides all the emotions that one could hope for, plus I enjoy the stunt casting of the teacher at the beginning.
Where this film falters, and where it seems to have copped the most flack, is the ending and I can kind of understand because the film doesn’t provide any easy answers and ends on a cliff-hanger that would make anyone wonder what happens next. A cliff-hanger… you know, like a DeLorean turning up right at the end of the film and the driver saying “We’ve got to go back” before everyone flies away and we’re left wondering what happens next. Yeah, I’m kind of OK with the ending not tying everything up neatly because this film is dancing around a situation that hasn’t tied up neatly. It’s not going to go easy on the audience by spoon-feeding them a happy ending when the reality is that a happy ending doesn’t happen in these situations, but because it’s happening in a film we expect everything to be tied up. Sorry, I’m good with not knowing what happens at the end since the journey is the important element here.
See You Yesterday is a genuinely awesome film with some great cinematography and a deft hand behind the camera making everything work. Honestly, my only real complaint is that I wish it were a little longer and maybe had a few more trips back, show more attempts to change what happened. It’s a film I will happily watch again and makes me excited to see just what the director is going to do next because we need more films like this and if this is what he did for his first feature film, I can’t wait to see what he does with his next one.