From the panicked voiceover conversation that plays over a black screen in the first moments of “Things Will Be Different,” it’s clear that Sydney (Riley Dandy) and Joseph (Adam Thompson) are in some serious trouble. After pulling off a lucrative robbery by the skin of their teeth, the two siblings can almost feel the grains of sand slipping through their hourglasses as the sounds of police sirens grow closer. With the world closing in around them, the only things working in their favor are the massive bag of cash in her hand and the fact that he thinks they can time travel their way to freedom.

Through his various criminal dealings that remain unexplained, Joseph has negotiated access to a safe house that can shield its inhabitants from the laws of time and space. It might look like a simple farmhouse far removed from civilization, but that’s exactly what you want when you’re trying to go unnoticed. By opening a secret safe and setting all of the grandfather clocks to specific times, the would-be Bonnie and Clyde can transport themselves to a different time period where nobody is looking for them. The only catch is that they can’t leave the plot of land for two weeks.

Joseph sees this metaphysical quarantine as an opportunity to rekindle a strained relationship with his sister. This robbery might be their most successful criminal endeavor to date, but their family dynamic still hasn’t recovered from a similar incident decades earlier where she took the fall for a botched job. However, their plans to spend two weeks drinking cheap whiskey and healing old wounds are cut short when the magical property begins making ominous demands of its own.

A tape recorder in the basement allows inhabitants of the house to communicate with voices from the past and future by making recordings and listening to the responses that instantly appear. Sydney and Joseph are informed that visitors will soon come to the house to hurt them, and the only way they’ll ever leave the property is by killing the assailants and presenting the body to the unseen time lords who operate the house.

Michael Felker’s directorial debut is a stellar example of executing a high concept on a low budget by crafting a mythology that justifies its limitations. The siblings on the lam jump back and forth through unspecified numbers of years even as the action stays at the farmhouse, eliminating the need for excessive location changes without feeling cheap. The house relies on analog technologies like clocks and tape recorders to torment its inhabitants, adding to their sense of disillusionment while keeping the film‘s scale appropriately small.

Thompson and Dandy are quite believable as estranged siblings, elevating Joseph and Sydney into rich characters despite the fact that there’s little time to dig into their backstory while they’re constantly running. The lack of exposition isn’t missed, as the script is able to maintain nonstop tension by combining a massive mystery box with a ticking time bomb and a sibling relationship that feels like a powder keg about to explode.

The small scale that makes the premise of “Things Will Be Different” so believable isn’t always enough to carry the film to the ambitious places it tries to go in the final act. It’s a movie that thrives on mystery and confusion, and attempts to finally explain the perplexing forces that operate the safe house can’t possibly live up to the images that we crafted in our heads. But Felker wisely shifts his focus back to the human relationship at the heart of the story in time to deliver an ending that explains the film’s ominous title.

Alternating between grandiose mythology and unvarnished thrills, “Things Will Be Different” is a promising directorial debut that embraces its creative limitations to put a fresh spin on familiar time-travel tropes. For all of its elegant cinematography and cerebral writing, the film’s success stems from its realization that understanding the laws of time and space is much less complicated than untangling decades-old family drama.

Grade: B+

“Things Will Be Different” premiered at SXSW 2024. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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