See You Yesterday (2019)

These days it seems that every time travel movie has to have one.

I’d just seen it in Reset, then saw it once again in See You Yesterday.

I guess you could call it the Primer shot: after all, it is the shot that opens that epoch-making Indie film.  That’s probably where it first appeared, but by no means the last.

If you watch a lot of low budget, Indie and DIY science fiction — particularly if you’ve seen as many as I have — then you should recognize the shot, although you might not have consciously noted it: it’s that moment when the overhead garage door opens, revealing the characters waiting to enter their workshop.

And once again we have yet another “genius invents time machine in his garage” movie.

Now if you’re looking for their inspiration for this film, you might start looking towards the Back to the Future trilogy as Michael J. Fox has a small part as a helpful teacher who is willing to overlook it when they “borrow” stuff from his science lab — and you might even expect a bit of Chronicle as it starts out like a found footage film.  But perhaps the most important influence is that Spike Lee produced it, and it’s set in the Inner City with a mostly Black cast.

C.J. Walker and her pal Sebastian have developed a backpack time machine.  However, after their first successful test, C.J.’s brother is killed by the police when they think his cell phone is a gun.  So she decides to use her invention to go back and save him.

Only it proves to be far more difficult than she expected and she’s forced to get help from the one person she doesn’t want to work with.

And that’s when she learns that the cost of saving her brother may be higher than she is willing to pay.

This seems a very topical film right now, with our cities still burning — although they weren’t at the time it was actually made or when it was first released.

I was a little surprised to find that this was a far more nuanced film than I expected: another character dies in the violent robbery which brought the police into the neighborhood in the first place.  Whether writer/director Stefon Bristol or his cowriter, Fredrica Bailey, intended it or not, it is clear that the hostility her brother — a former drug addict — feels toward the police is one of the main reasons he got shot in the first place.

In our age of flawless female characters being held back by those around them (like Meg Murray in the terrible Disney version of A Wrinkle in Time) I find it refreshing that C.J.’s anger and impetuousness cause most of her problems — and even gets someone killed.

Okay, the backpacks themselves are very high on the “yeah, right” scale (and we never get much of an explanation of how two children built a time machine beyond the basic idea that they are geniuses.  And can loot the school’s science supplies).  Although the glowing tubing in their inner works is sorta cool.  The first image of C.J. and Sebastian in their obviously home-made time travel gear is geekily perfect:  it looks like something they threw together out  of whatever they had around, with lots of odds and ends strapped on wherever they could find the space.  Okay, none of it lights up when they time travel, like a Delorean, but the time travel effects are still reasonably well done.

There are two minutes at the heart of this film which define it: a deliberate and knowing sacrifice one character makes at the end which changes the meaning of everything that came before it, and a final, indefinite moment, driven once again by C.J.’s flaws.

I’ll admit that, in a dark tale like this, I am pleased that they kept the violence and death off screen.  It makes me think of those old films from the Thirties and Forties, from the early days of the Production Code, when you never saw the blunt object hit someone’s head.  It seems an admirable bit of self-restraint in our unrestrained age.

See You Yesterday is an excellent effort, with sold acting and a well-written, character-driven script.

It is as fine a piece of Indie filmmaking as you could ask for.

Even if somehow or other it never quite made it to the theaters and ended up on Netflix instead…



And check out our new Feature (Updated June 11, 2020):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



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