Safety Not Guaranteed (2013) Review

safety not guaranteedIn the September 1997 issue of Backwoods Home magazine, a publication aimed at rural California, a mysterious classified ad appeared in the ‘Wanted’ section:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box XXXX. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

While the ad itself turned out to be a joke by Senior Editor John Silveira, the idea of it being true was just too appealing and so the writer/ director team of Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (both now working on the fourth “Jurassic Park movie “Jurassic World”) brought us “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

The film tells the story of Seattle Magazine writer Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson of “New Girl”) who picks up on the advert and convinces his editor to let him track down the story behind it. He takes with him two of the magazine’s interns, disillusioned graduate Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and earnest, introverted biology major Arnau (Karan Soni). The three of them travel to the seaside town of Ocean View where it becomes clear that Jeff had an ulterior motive for pursuing the story: to hook up with a long-lost love who also lives in Ocean View. The three of them quickly establish the person behind the advert is local grocery store worker Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) but when Jeff’s attempt to strike up a conversation alarms Kenneth, he sends Darius in to befriend him instead.

The cast are bright and quirkily likeable with Mark Duplass especially impressive, maintaining a sense of ambiguity around his character and his utter concinction that he has time travlled and will do so again. Connolly and Trevorrow’s film does a superb job of keeping you guessing as to what actually is going on and whether or not there really is a time machine. As Darius’ friendship with Kenneth grows, the evidence for either case starts to build and she finds herself torn between her job as a reporter and her growing attachment to the intense, lonely but good-hearted store clerk.

Meanwhile, the other characters play around with more prosaic forms of time travel, as Jeff hooks up with his ex-sweetheart only to learn that you can’t really go back and live in the past, you can just visit while Arnau makes up for lost time by letting his hair down.

Trevorrow especially uses his limited budget well, crafting a wonderfully visual film using the Seatte and Washington locations cleverly while never losing focus from its small group of characters. Modest in budget and ambition, the strength of the performances and the subtle but smart script come together to create something special – it’ll be fascinating to see what Trevorrow and his writing partner bring to the verdant, dangerous jungles of Isla Nublar!

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a beautifully judged film: quiet but utterly absorbing and although it deals with the high-concept of time travel (intelligently and logically), it’s essentially a character-driven story about regret, disillusionment and hope.

8/10 

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