Things Will Be Different

Things Will Be Different (2024)

Things Will Be Different had its World Première at the SXSW 2024

Things Will Be Different begins with a rendez-vous in a diner, and a time warp. For like so many small-town American diners, the place, with its reassuringly old-fashioned furnishings, is classic, timeless, even out of time, as though nothing has changed here in decades and just walking in is putting you in touch with a carefully preserved history. When Sidney (Riley Dandy) does walk in with a rifle slung over her shoulder, the diner is eerily empty save for a single waitress (Jori Felker) and Sidney’s older brother Joseph (Adam David Thompson), waiting alone for her on a counter seat with two breakfast specials. The two estranged siblings, spilt by their parents’ divorce and a subsequent treachery, have just committed an armed robbery, and are about to play catch-up with each other as they head off together to a hideout and lay low until the heat has passed. 

It is a waiting game. First Joseph waits in the diner, and then they will wait together – for no more than two weeks, insists Sidney, who is desperate to get back to her six-year-old daughter Steph. Indeed the only reason she has reconciled with Joseph, so many years after he left her in the lurch, is her need to clear growing debts. Yet in Things Will Be Different, debts are reclaimed in unexpected ways and time moves in a mysterious manner, as this brother and sister become lost together in an unresolved past. 

More specifically, they hide out in an isolated farmhouse that is also a time machine, allowing them to slip unnoticed back into a past when no one is yet looking for them, wait a fortnight, and then return to two weeks after the present when the coast is clear. Joseph has been told about the place by a woman he met in the bar (Chloe Skoczen), who also gave him a notebook of detailed instructions in its proper use – but what the siblings do not realise is that they are now trapped on this rural property, and being monitored remotely by interested parties determined to ensure that their breach of the space-time continuum remains contained. Now Sidney and Joseph find themselves assigned – via a confoundingly elaborate system of communications with their providential yet aloof overseers – to wait for the arrival, at an unspecified time, of a third person, ‘an unknown visitor’ whom they must eliminate before they will be able to get back to their present. And so they wait, and wait, and wait, all the while slipping ever further apart from each other, as Sidney once more feels her trust has been betrayed.

This is writer/director Michael Felker’s feature debut, but he has been a regular editor on the films of Justin Benson (who has a shadowy cameo here alongside Sarah Bolger) and Aaron Moorhead since Spring (2014), and his deft handling of space and time in their The Endless (2017), Synchronic (2019) and Something in the Dirt (2022) rubs off here as the slow tick tick tick of time is measured in fluid montages, and the paradoxes gradually compound without ever being hard to follow. It helps that his script grounds all the bizarre anomalies in character, as these siblings prove to be caught metaphorically as much as literally in their own troubled history, and struggle to be reconciled when there is so much mistrust, and so many missing years, between them. 

Meanwhile there is an unrecognisable corpse in the nearby mill, a Tenet-style temporal pincer movement at work, and a rearguard action from the future, ensuring that once the final credits have rolled, the complexities of the narrative’s mechanics, largely unnoticed on the way through, will be haunting your brain on a loop, as you go over and over all the permutations and ramifications of this family tragedy where dysfunction is cyclical. Think of it as The Cabin in the Woods (2012) of time travel movies, with a house (under close if remote observation) as the time machine, and its occupants as the hamsters on a wheel. For as these siblings wait for closure and catharsis that may never come, their own baggage – as well as time itself – will prove both their worst enemy, and their legacy. “Time”, as they will learn, “isn’t kind to the displaced.” 

This is such an assured calling card – telling its unpredictable, eventually mind-melting story through relatable drama rather than whizzbang effects, and letting its ‘vise’-like grip slowly get a hold of the viewer. Give it due time and patience, and you will see that, with Felker now fully arrived and making his mark, things will indeed be different.

strap: Michael Felker’s sci-fi feature traps fugitive siblings on a rural property, in time, and in a looping legacy of family tragedy

© Anton Bitel