Madelines has the clear kernel of a good idea, but ultimately feels like the rough draft of a rough draft.
The latest no-budget sci-fi flick to tackle the devastating repercussions of time travel, director Jason R. Miller’s Madelines follows a lineage that includes such notably intelligent, head-spinning tales as Primer, Timecrimes, and Triangle. Writer/star Brea Grant is no stranger to the DIY indie film scene, having proven her bona fides with the Angela Bettis-starrer 12 Hour Shift and 2020’s depressingly timely thriller Lucky. Grant specializes in genre fare with a feminist bent, her heroines being strong-willed women fighting back against a patriarchy that sees them as inferior, helpless victims. Unfortunately, something is amiss with Madelines, which keeps teasing provocative themes that it frustratingly has no interest in plumbing. Grant stars as Madeline, a brilliant physicist and inventor who, along with her equally adept husband Owen (Parry Shen), has created a process that allows for the transfer of matter from one location to another through the application of time travel. A night of drinking inspires Madeline to test the device on herself, and the results prove wildly successful — except for the fact that she accidentally included a random bit of code that inadvertently creates a temporary time loop which results in the creation of 3,000 Madeline clones, one arriving each morning at the exact same time to wreak havoc. Citing both Back to the Future and Timecop as evidence, Owen comes to the immediate conclusion that each clone must be killed, as two Madelines cannot exist in the same time plane without seriously fucking shit up.
The first half of Madelines, then, is devoted to the elaborate and brutal ways the couple conceive of in dispatching these clones, with everything from axes to baseball bats to nitrous gas playing crucial roles. Unfortunately for audience members, all of this brutality is rendered with Sharknado-level CGI that takes the fun out of the darkly comedic scenarios, neutering the proceedings in the process. It’s only at the midpoint that the film begins to narrow its focus thematically, as Madeline decides she wants to communicate with the clones to further understand the effects of time travel itself. As is wont to happen in such scenarios, things spin wildly out of control, and before long, dozens of Madelines are occupying screen space, each one desperate to stake their individuality. There’s certainly a kernel of a good idea here, as Grant clearly wants to examine the ways in which women are often insultingly defined by one single trait, with each clone representing a facet of the original Madeline’s personality. By extension, these Madelines become representative of everywoman, a vast network of differing and often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It’s also telling that hubby Owen is quick to kill those aspects he finds objectionable, while going easier on, for example, the Madeline clone who loves giving blow jobs. But in a curious move, Grant chooses to focus mainly on those clones who are violent, spiteful, and vindictive, which only serves to reinforce harmful stereotypes in ways undoubtedly unintended but still wholly depressing, all in service of a twist ending that isn’t clever in the slightest. It doesn’t help that the film is a scant 80 minutes and devotes more time to highlighting Madeline’s wine drinking — speaking of outdated stereotypes — than explicating its themes. Madelines is that most frustrating of viewing experiences, wherein you can ultimately see the movie it could have been had anyone devoted proper time and care to the material. As it stands, the film feels like a rough draft of a rough draft, and frankly looks like one, too. Grant will undoubtedly be back to kick more ass in the future — the indie scene needs her distinct voice. But trust us when we say, no one needs Madelines.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — April 2022.