Time travel seems to be the perfect example of imperfect science. By now, we have a general and theoretical idea of how the whole concept works or does not work but, beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. If we ever get there scientifically, the grand question of whether or not it would be ethical to ride that train can be pushed aside to ask…would the time-travel vehicle be a train? Or is it a DeLorean running on garbage? Or perhaps a giant thingamajig in some dude’s garage? Even for this single question, there are more potential answers and none of them are more logical to the casual cinematic audience than another. This puts time-travel movies into a complicated gray area. If they are too silly or unconcerned with the mechanics of time travel, they can be a fun romp that pays no mind to realism or physics. They can also take themselves incredibly seriously and dedicate a good chunk of running time to explaining exactly how well this all works for them in their timeline. But you can’t have it both ways. By turning on the audience’s brain for even a minute, introducing linear logic, the movie opens itself up to questions. If rules are introduced, they should be followed.
With a title like Relax, I’m from the Future, it’s not a spoiler that the film is about time travel. It is also not a spoiler that it sits on the sillier end of the silly-to-serious time travel spectrum. It does get a little wobbly, however, when it tries to be about all of the other things in the middle.
Rhys Darby stars as Casper, the main time traveler hinted at in the film’s title. True to the expectations preceding the lovable and hilarious Kiwi, Darby brings the same aloof charm he wafts in Our Flag Means Death and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Despite all the criticism in this review (and it is coming), bear in mind that Darby does no wrong and tries his best to sell the hell out of the script and the inconsistently-written Casper.
When Casper first arrives to our time, it is not an easy transition. It is not that he does not understand our language or society, but that he arrives with nothing. No money. No place to sleep. No food to eat. It is a tough entry, but Casper seems chipper enough to try to make it work. He clearly has an affection for the era and wants to experience whatever he can while he is here.
Holly (Gabrielle Graham) takes pity on him and offers him food and empathy. Casper wastes no time in talking to Holly about his unbelievable origins, and she then takes him to a rock concert. That is not necessarily the next logical step in his exploration, but he sure seems to enjoy it.
After bonding by rocking out, Holly begins to believe Casper. Through little tests, he earns her trust and moves in with her, making money hand-over-fist through sports bets and the lottery. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of Relax’s plot. There is also an underground bunker, an assassin, plenty more exposition and even a thwarted suicide attempt from an entirely separate plot thread.
For a film trying to strike a light and charming tone, and one creating the structure and components of time travel, Relax attempts to include far too much plot in just 94 minutes. Writer/director Luke Higginson has plenty of good ideas, but none are given time to develop and thrive. Just when Casper is talking Holly through how time travel works, or how all drugs are legal in his world, we move to the next plot point without any space to contemplate the weight of what we just learned—yet the plot is presented as a higher priority than any other element. And sure, it is interesting enough, but it is a disservice to the ideas and characters in the film to not even give them a chance to make their mark.
Relax never quite feels confusing, but it does feel incomplete. In the end, what happens is more centered than why or how it happened, which feels odd. It feels like missing the last step of a staircase, abruptly stumbling ungracefully onto the floor: It gets you there, but it could have been a smoother journey. Rhys Darby’s charm, some decent jokes, and a handful of interesting theories save Relax, I’m from the Future from being a total slog, but its unfocused script and unexplored ideas hold it back from greatness.
Director: Luke Higginson
Writer: Luke Higginson
Stars: Rhys Darby, Gabrielle Graham, Julian Richings
Release Date: July 20, 2022 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Deirdre Crimmins is a Chicago-based film critic who lives with two black cats, and her eternal optimism that the next film she watches might be her new favorite. She wrote her Master’s thesis on George Romero and still loves a good musical.