How Timestalker Reinvents the Rom-Com as Existential Sci-Fi

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This article appears in the SXSW 2024 issue of Den of Geek magazine. Check out all of our SXSW coverage here.

Seven years in the making, spanning centuries in the telling, Alice Lowe’s latest feature, Timestalker, is a strange beast. A dark comedy, a romance through the ages, a violent sci-fi, and an existential musing on the self, it’s an ambitious romp dressed in spandex and crinoline. 

“When you make an independent film, you know there’s a chance you may never make one again,” says Lowe. “Any time one happens, it’s like a miracle. And I really just thought, God, if this was the last film that I ever get to make, what would I want to put in it? It’s like my gravestone in a film.” 

What she’s put in it are fabulous costumes, wigs, animals, an ensemble cast playing multiple roles, music, Easter eggs, and some soul searching.

Lowe plays Agnes, a woman in the 1600s who vows to follow the condemned preacher she’s besotted with through time. Reincarnated through different eras, her many lives are intertwined with the roguish Alex (Aneurin Barnard), the brutish George (Nick Frost), the loyal Meg (Tanya Reynolds), and the mercurial Scipio (Jacob Anderson). Agnes goes from peasant to gentlewoman, via enormous wigs and outlandish deaths, to rock groupie in the ’80s. Inspired by Powell and Pressburger, as well as flights of fancy in films including Brazil and The Fisher King, it’s very British, funny, and deadpan while also being colorful, complicated, and highly philosophical.

“I think a lot of people react to it as, ‘Oh, it’s just a light rom-com, isn’t it?’ I mean, it’s high-concept. But for me, it’s quite serious,” says Lowe. “It’s reincarnation, but it’s about time as well. And it’s about second chances and fucking up. All of those things that you get in rom-coms traditionally, but I wanted to update that and kind of go, I think women are allowed to talk about existentialism now.” 

Lowe is a mainstay of British TV comedy, co-wrote and starred in Ben Wheatley’s horror comedy Sightseers, and made her feature directorial debut with Prevenge, which was shot while Lowe was heavily pregnant and follows a woman whose unborn baby seems to drive her on a murderous rampage. Though Timestalker isn’t strictly speaking a chiller, it comes with splashes of gore and a dusting of folk horror in its opening segment, which was inspired by a real-life story about a mask found in Scotland worn by an illegal preacher who preached the Covenant (a part of the Bible banned by King James) and who was put to death. It’s creepy. There’s a good joke about a fish wife. Agnes pledges her eternal love to a man she barely knows. Then she falls over a dog.

“The joke within the film is that no one can escape. They are who they are; it doesn’t matter what time or place they are in, they’re the same people. And that’s really annoying to them,” she explains. “Nobody in the film is falling in love with the right person. They’re all falling in love with the toxic, worst person they could fall in love with, which is sort of like reality. Agnes is kind of an idiot as well. I think it’s quite transgressive at the moment. To have a stupid female character is quite challenging to the audience.”

Though it’s a broad comedy in some ways, Timestalker is deliberately provocative, focusing on a vacuous male muse, a deluded protagonist, and featuring an aerobics sequence shot like a horror movie. It also comes at a time when stalker documentaries are everywhere—check out Netflix, and you’ll be presented with a wealth of terrifying true-life tales

“She could have a scary documentary made about her!” Lowe jokes about Agnes. 

It’s in keeping with the film though, which tackles massive themes and constantly undermines them.

“A lot of my work is about reality and fantasy, and specifically the clash between those things,” she says, with self-deprecation. “I have some very highfalutin ideas, and then I realize who I actually am, and that I am just a television actress that has got some trumped up ideas, and that punctures my beliefs. And that’s then funny.”

Lowe’s not been to SXSW before but is stoked to be premiering the film to this audience.

“Everybody tells me it’s like the most fun you can have at a festival,” she says. “You look at a program of something like Berlin, and you go, oh my God, imagine if we were trying to play there and they’d just shown Zone of Interest or something. I don’t think it would work. This is a comedy audience.” 

She’s hoping people there for the music festival might see the film too, which has a strong rock thread throughout—Agnes’ “soul mate” goes from preacher to highwayman to ’80s New Romantic megastar, and the film features original music by Brit band Toy Drum.

“I think it’s perfect,” she says. “I just want people to have that appetite and that kind of rock and roll vibe.”

Timestalker has its premiere at SXSW and will open later this year.

The post How Timestalker Reinvents the Rom-Com as Existential Sci-Fi appeared first on Den of Geek.

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