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The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Directors: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber

review by Alasdair Stuart

One of the bleakest genre offerings in years, this is a highly original take on the traditional time travel story, with a good dose of suburban horror thrown in for good measure.

Ashton Kutcher delivers an utterly uncharacteristic, restrained performance in the lead role as Evan, a happy, successful student who has managed to put the horrors of his past behind him. Not only did he suffer from blackouts as a child but also his father was committed to an insane asylum and, Kayleigh (Amy Smart), the love of his life moved away after an incident involving her, Evan and her psychotic brother. Evan discovers the exact nature of his blackouts when he realises that he can use his childhood journals to travel through time. He effectively possesses himself during the blackouts and uses this newfound ability to change the course of his and Kayleigh's future.

This is one of the bravest genre movies in years, having the courage to not only tackle numerous issues head-on but also to never explain itself fully. The justification for why Evan can travel through time is hinted at by another character but, like Evan himself, the viewer remains in the dark. In doing this, the film manages to get past the concept of time travel and focus instead on the consequences of the changes that Evan makes.

It's here that the film really excels, following Evan and his friends through numerous possible presents. There's some much-needed comedy here, in particular during the 'frat boy' sequence, but also some truly bleak moments. These in turn lead the film down some genuinely unusual narrative paths and the constant changes in the present all make perfect sense and continually spin the story off in unexpected directions. This willingness to take chances is even reflected in the ending, bringing the story to a close in a way that is both audacious and utterly logical. This is not the standard time travel movie and it never lets the viewer forget that.

Brave, uncompromising and with a pair of great lead performances this truly is a pleasant surprise. Highly recommended.
Butterfly Effect

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