There are plenty of time travel movies out there so it takes an interesting angle to make one stand out. See You Yesterday from director Stefon Bristol mixes up some fairly familiar sci-fi elements with an American urban social commentary. And the end concoction is something with just enough freshness to deliver a fun viewing experience.
High school students C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Crichow) have managed to invent time travel. This appears to be a near future world where VR holographic displays are available enough for two school kids to have some in their garage. But not future enough to be all flying cars and the like. Their only plan is to wow at the school science expo and get into a great college. However, when a time jump results in tragedy this becomes the impetus for more ‘butterfly effect’ meddling to try and undo the damage.
In reality, the time travel element is a minor part of the story. Taking center stage are the problems that the black community faces when the police are armed and have twitchy trigger fingers. The very real amount of examples there are of innocent black youths being gunned down by law enforcement gives the movie a depressing sense of hopeless normality.
C.J. and Sebastian are two very engaging young leads and it’s a refreshing change that their friendship remains so. Despite all the winking and cajoling from their respective families who assume something must be going on between them, their platonic connection works perfectly without crowbarring in sexual tension.
Director Stefon Bristol also reverses the stereotypical gender roles by making C.J. the hothead and Sebastian the cautious one. The grandparents of Sebastian combined with C.J.’s mother and brother (rapper turned actor Astro) imbue the movie with the everyday nature of suburban living complete with cookouts and competitive dominoes playing.
Although See You Yesterday is clearly working with limited means, the directorial flare adds plenty of nice touches. We only get one ‘time travel money shot’ but Bristol crashes his camera around with Sam Raimi-esque abandon, jarring from left to right in one shot or literally turning C.J.s world upside down after a disastrous jump.
The plot is a little predictable and, at times, frustrating. You do want to grab the supposedly super intelligent C.J. and shake her for her many many bad choices. And the movie dabbles in the morality of altering the timeline but quickly drops this element. Instead, it focuses on the emotional impact of bad decisions: perhaps apt for a movie showing people being shot by reckless police on a regular basis.
See You Yesterday rips along with enough pace that such niggles are glossed over. What is left is a rough around the edges movie that nonetheless has a fresh take on an often tired sci-fi trope, by simply grounding it in as much reality as possible. Even with a small budget, Bristol has made a movie that aspires for more and is all the better for it. And the young cast do an excellent job. Although if you take one thing away from this movie, it’s that yelling ‘no time to explain!’ during your hard deadline time travel mission rarely works for anyone.
Words by Michael Record