The weekends slip away like they were nothing at all. As we age, each weekend feels shorter than the last. Our extended time shows us how relative and small our experience of a moment really is. Alba (Iria del Río) has reached the moment in life when time begins to work against us. She’s just turned thirty, is at a dead-end in her relationship, is feeling suffocated at home, and is headed back to an old family haunt to find herself with a group of her friends. Something has to give. Through a Groundhog Day (1993) mechanism, she is given opportune time to work it out. Her weekend plays on repeat, cutting out a precious hour with every time loop. Alba’s been supernaturally gifted with the one thing we all need – some measure of control and flexibility – while entering into the second stages of adulthood.
Alba’s recursive weekend shrinks back to the same starting point – she awakens in the van, and her boyfriend and troop of friends are ready to go explore a charming old cabin in the woods. It’s really perfect genre setup. Any time you need genre flexibility, arrive at a cabin in the woods, and it creates a protracted series of social situations. Quite beautifully, as her days repeat, and the time spent in them decreases by an hour, the aspect ratio shrinks with them. It’s such a nice, subtle touch, the frame being given the greatest leverage to create dread. It’s initially quite subtle and then draws in with the inevitability of an ending. When the day ends, The Incredible Shrinking WKND utilizes a neat visual trick to great effect: everyone but Alba freezes. She can investigate the final fragment of the scene and direct her course for the next day.
Much of the time, regrettably, is spent working out how to make others happy. It is such a noble and self-actualizing process, to spin in reverse, and get to explore your personal truth of every relationship and find something like genuine purpose, that it’s a damn shame the movie is really about what she means to a guy. It’s about her making the weekend right so she can stay with him. She wants to appease her dad and find out what is really going on with him. What are her friends not telling her, and can she please everyone, at once? That’s about as far as the director goes, philosophically and it’s a shame when there’s such an opportune time to explore what really motivates a character.
We do get to have the same kind of cinematic fun we now expect in these time loop movies. Alba can party and self-destruct without remorse. She can test every boundary defining her friendships. She gets to see her closest companions for who they really are. What they really mean to each other, what they think about her. While they drink and smoke and party and explore old weapons factories next-door, the ethereal otherness informs its structural demands. Surprisingly, it has the restraint to stay in the genre, without being totally informed by horror. What plays out is mostly still a human drama, a captivating story about people and how they interact over the course of many variations.
What holds the center together is Iria del Río’s performance – no matter what revision – she holds the enclosing frame together with grace and with a great capacity for growth. Like our two excellent examples early this year (Happy Death Day 2U & Russian Doll), the Groundhog Day genre is finding new life in the stories of strong women. We wish, this time, it wasn’t defined by the men in her life, but what happens between those moments remains special. The Incredible Shrinking WKND is a lovely looking exploration of self-actualization. One of the greatest lessons we learn later in life is that all of our failures have been a privilege to learn something new.