A woman running down a city street with a panicked look

Judy Greer as Sophie, a widowed nurse who gets a chance to turn back time

What would you do if you could bring a loved one back to life at the push of a button?

That’s the central question of writer-director Jared Moshé ’01’s Aporia, although, of course, things are much more complicated than that. Aporia presents a philosophical dilemma in the form of a sci-fi story, evoking the approach of influential TV series from The Twilight Zone to Black Mirror. The specific setup in Aporia also recalls Richard Matheson’s classic short story “Button, Button,” in which a strange, possibly sinister man offers a woman a large sum of money if she’ll push a button that causes the death of someone she doesn’t know.

The person offering a similar choice to widowed nurse Sophie (Judy Greer) in Aporia isn’t a mysterious interloper, though. It’s her longtime friend Jabir (Payman Maadi), who informs her that he and her late husband, Mal (Edi Gathegi), had been working on a homemade time machine before Mal’s sudden death. While Jabir’s machine has failed to achieve actual time travel, it is able to send a particle back in time to instantly kill anyone within a certain range. As Sophie is consumed with grief, Jabir tells her that all she has to do is press a button, and the drunk driver who killed Mal will himself die before committing the crime. Sophie’s husband and the father of her despondent daughter, Riley (Faithe Herman), will still be alive, as if nothing ever happened.

Of course, Sophie pushes the button. That’s really just the jumping-off point for Aporia’s sci-fi head trip, as the characters wrestle with the implications of their newfound power. Mal returns without any knowledge that things were ever different, and only Sophie and Jabir are aware of the changes to the timeline. There’s a ripple effect to what they’ve done, though, and while Sophie and Riley are no longer grieving, someone else’s family now is. Making things right in one way just creates a different set of problems elsewhere.

Moshé explores these thorny existential issues with sensitivity, keeping the focus on the central characters even as their actions have potentially universe-
shattering repercussions. Aporia isn’t a big-budget film, and Jabir’s machine just looks like a tangle of wires and switches that could have been picked up at the local hardware store. The more the characters mess with the past, the more drastically things change in the present, but there are no apocalyptic events or bizarre alternate histories. Aporia is a family story, and the most devastating possibility is that one of those changes would destroy that family bond.

Moshé explores existential issues with sensitivity, keeping the focus on the main characters.

Greer, a prolific actor still mainly known for comedic supporting roles, shows off her dramatic range in a rare leading role, and she keeps the movie emotionally grounded even as the twists pile up. Moshé finds little ways to demonstrate the personal consequences of the characters’ metaphysical meddling, abruptly cutting from happy or sad moments to versions of those same moments with the opposite  reactions—or no reaction at all. Those intimate adjustments carry more weight than any large-scale special-effects set piece.

It’s not hard to predict that the characters’ well-intentioned interference with the space-time continuum will spiral out of control: Moshé is knowingly carrying on a grand sci-fi tradition. As the characters place themselves in an impossible position, Moshé does the same thing with the movie, but he finds an elegant way out. The final choice is about making sacrifices for the sake of family. That genuine connection is what makes such a low-key sci-fi saga so meaningful.

Bell is a critic and writer based in Las Vegas.