More sparkling than it sounds, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” (streaming starting Friday on Amazon Prime) tells the story of two 17-year-olds who, stuck in a time loop, decide to brighten their uninspiring lives by experiencing and recording wonderful moments in their town. While the film, like the recent “Palm Springs,” is, to an extent, a new version of “Groundhog Day,” its familiar premise plays out with snap and charm, thanks to fresh themes and appealing lead characters.
The movie is directed by Ian Samuels (“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser”) and written by Lev Grossman, brightly adapting his novella and peppering his script with pop-culture references.
The story transpires in an unnamed American town, where high-schooler Mark (Kyle Allen), an easygoing aspiring artist, is trapped, like “in that movie with Bill Murray” (Grossman’s screenplay acknowledges the “Groundhog Day” factor; “Edge of Tomorrow” is mentioned as well), in a loop in which he keeps living through the same day, again and again.
At a swimming pool. Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a mysterious wannabe aeronautic engineer, catches the eye of Mark, who senses a simpatico connection. Margaret, too, is experiencing the “temporal anomaly” phenomenon, and, pondering their predicament together, the two become friends.
To make their repetitive existence more meaningful, Mark and Margaret decide to look for “tiny perfect things” around town and to create a map of those moments. During this quest, they fall in love. But while Mark wants them to act on their romantic feelings, Margaret pulls back.
The pair also differ on the matter of breaking free from the time loop. Mark wants to return to the regular world, where people have normal lives, and hatches a plan to do so. Margaret, for reasons later revealed, would rather stay put. Their contrasting views, and personal circumstances, threaten their bond.
The movie has its rough spots.
Margaret’s secret, once addressed, leads to predictability; and her character could use more development. Unlike Mark, who interacts with his unemployed dad (Josh Hamilton), astute younger sister (Cleo Fraser) and video-gaming buddy (Jermaine Harris), Margaret doesn’t appear in such active scenes until a plot point demands it.
Sci-fi elements and romantic scenes are sometimes flat or corny, as when Mark and Margaret bicycle through a school building, laughing with arms outstretched.
But while edge and profundity aren’t the filmmakers’ specialties, this metaphysical fantasy is still a pleasant surprise. The time-loopy Margaret-Mark dynamics can be lively, smart and fun. That’s especially the case when the two characters revisit incidents they’ve previously witnessed and playfully alter the outcomes.
The story’s primary point — that we should recognize the magnificence of life’s sweet and special smaller moments — leads to uneven adventures and a trivial resolution, but the message is hard to reject.
Terrific together, Allen and Newton breeze through even the weakest material with a winning rapport and provide essential chemistry and spirit. Crucial to the success of the film, they make their characters’ romantic, metaphysical, and intellectual connections considerable and believable.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
Starring: Kyle Allen, Kathryn Newton, Jermaine Harris, Josh Hamilton
Written by: Lev Grossman
Directed by: Ian Samuels
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Blending real-life family pathology with genre entertainment, Jordan Graham’s “Sator” features some encompassing dread.
Acting as writer, director, cinematographer editor, and composer, Graham has made a deeply personal and thoughtfully conceived movie that fictionalizes his family’s struggles with mental illness into an unusual horror narrative.
Bringing to mind “The Blair Witch Project” and “Hereditary,” the drama transpires in a dark forest where a bearded loner named Adam (Gabriel Nicholson) lives with his dog in a cabin and hunts not only for deer but for a mysterious presence among the trees.
Creepy interior scenes introduce Adam’s fractured family, whose members include concerned brother Pete (Michael Daniel) and the siblings’ grandmother, Nani. Nani is played by June Peterson, Graham’s grandmother, whose onscreen character, describing a real-life family condition, reveals that she has long heard voices in her head. These come, she believes, from a force called Sator, whose words she records, automatic-writing style, on paper.
Sator seeks sacrifices by fire, and as Adam’s obsession with Sator, along with Sator’s hold on the family, intensifies, a brutal climax is expected.
The movie contains little in the way of dialogue or major scares. Those averse to narrative vagueness and deliberate pacing probably won’t embrace Graham’s storytelling style, which uses cinematography (full-screen color and square-screen black and white), surveillance-video and audio-recording snippets, genre elements like flickering candles and animal skulls, and an eerie soundscape to convey madness and malevolence.
As for whether Sator truly exists or is a delusion within a troubled family, Graham doesn’t say. But either way, the demons are horrific.
Delivering familiar genre goods while consistently underscoring the tragedy of mental illness, this movie, while not for everyone, impresses.
“Sator” becomes available Friday on iTunes/AppleTV, Amazon and other platforms.
Starring: Gabriel Nicholson, Michael Daniel, June Peterson
Written and directed by: Jordan Graham
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes