The HoloFiles

SXSW REVIEW: Things Will Be Different

By George & Josh Bate

Things will be different review

While Christopher Nolan has received much-deserved praise for his time-bending sci-fi films, the duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have quietly accomplished similarly impressive feats with time as a central construct to their stories, albeit on a smaller scale. Most notably, Moorhead and Benson helmed The Endless and Synchronic, two films that put novel spins on the frequently-used concept of time travel. Amidst impressive and intricate scripts that challenged as much as they entertained, integral to these two films was a razor-sharp editing style that beautifully complemented and was ultimately necessary to the film’s core themes and narrative. Handling these films as editor was Michael Felker, whose extensive career in editing spans feature films, TV, and even video games. After directing several dozen short films over the past 15 years, Felker assumes writing and directing duties for a feature length film for the first time with Things Will Be Different.

Executive produced by resident time manipulators Moorhead and Benson, Things Will Be Different is a new sci-fi film premiering at this year’s SXSW. The film follows brother and sister duo Joe and Sid (played by Adam David Thompson and Riley Dandy respectively), who have just completed a close-call robbery and are looking to avoid detection by law enforcement. After rendezvousing at a local diner, the siblings decide to lay low at an abandoned farmhouse, which possesses a mysterious ability to transport them to another time.

Time travel often proves to be an unwieldy plot element. What has the potential to foster an exciting story and twists-and-turns frequently devolves into convoluted or overwhelming territory, making for a viewing experience that is both confusing and frustrating. That being said, there is something compelling about a film that cognitively challenges its audience, and time travel films do that like no other. Films like Tenet, for instance, teeter on the border of convoluted and compelling, while the likes of Looper and 12 Monkeys require attention and can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, but are ultimately fantastic films nonetheless. With Things Will Be Different, Felker successfully joins esteemed company in crafting a time-bending sci-fi film that interestingly poses challenging questions while never becoming unapproachable or frustrating.

Things Will Be Different blends high-concept sci-fi with a grounded aesthetic in a manner similar to Rian Johnson’s Looper. Time travel is central to the film’s narrative and yet this heightened element is accompanied by decidedly grounded aesthetics. The film takes place at a farmhouse in rural America, not some futuristic or other-worldly setting. The primary time travel devices include a wooden door and clocks. Later on, an old voice recorder and safe play key roles in the film. Like Looper, Felker’s film intrigues by integrating the familiar (i.e., doors, clocks, safes) with the strange (i.e., time travel) to culminate in what feels like a realistic time travel story (or, at least as realistic as time travel stories can get).

Things will be different review

It’s not just an aesthetic groundedness that accompanies the high-concepts of Things Will Be Different as the film tackles deeply human themes of family and sacrifice. Core to the story are the brother and sister duo Joe and Sid. The two find themselves contained (both literally and figuratively) in a nightmare situation that strains their relationship and exposes some of its raw vulnerabilities. Like some of the best sci-fi films do, Things Will Be Different packs extremely relatable themes and characters within a high-concept story, which adds real emotional depth to the film’s winding narrative.

Further containing this narrative is the fact that siblings Joe and Sid are essentially the only characters (at least for a large stretch of the film) and, therefore, feature in virtually every scene. This aspect of the script, in addition to taking place in a single setting, puts quite the responsibility on the shoulders of stars Adam David Thompson and Riley Dandy – to maintain audiences’ interest with relatively few big set pieces or moments to work with. Thankfully, the actors take this responsibility head on and deliver nuanced performances that prove vital to executing the film’s complicated plot and ensuring the emotions hit hard. Mere moments into the film and actors Thompson and Dandy convey such an organic chemistry that them being siblings is immediately believable and even instinctive. This chemistry persists throughout the film and will likely resonate with anyone who is close to a sibling in their life. 

Not only emotionally, Things Will Be Different delivers narratively too. Felker carefully constructs his psychological sci-fi thriller, employing deliberate pacing and an unfolding plot that takes a number of unexpected turns. It’s a cognitively demanding film, one that necessitates attention and inner contemplation for true appreciation. And, as is the case with many compelling and cognitively demanding films, the immediate reaction upon watching Things Will Be Different is a desire to watch it again – to pick up on all the details one may have missed and try to wrap one’s head around the narrative.

Minor issues detract from what is otherwise an enthralling film. The characters have a shockingly nonchalant attitude toward time travel, which makes the beginning part of the film feel somewhat jarring and distancing from the leads. The film’s ending, meanwhile, brings the story full circle, but in a manner that isn’t entirely satisfying. To explain more would necessitate getting into spoiler territory; although, it can be said that the film’s ending is a bit of a head-scratcher. 

VERDICT: 8/10

Things Will Be Different sees Michael Felker tackle a feature directorial debut that evokes the time-bending thrillers of Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Aaron Moorhead, and Justin Benson. Blending high-concept sci-fi with grounded aesthetics and themes, Felker’s film is emotionally compelling, narratively fascinating, and cognitively demanding, making a second viewing a pleasure and a necessity. Adam David Thompson and Riley Dandy command the screen as they deliver lead performances that render them virtually the only actors in the vast majority of the film. A somewhat jarring introduction to a key plot element and an ending that doesn’t entirely satisfy do little to take away from what is an impressive feature directorial debut from a filmmaker intelligent with his scripting and confident in his directing.

Check out a clip from Things Will Be Different below and stay tuned to The HoloFiles for continued coverage of SXSW 2024.

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