Ruthlessly ambitious business executive Pete is on his way to an important meeting when he realizes he's running late. As he pops into the restroom, he's rude on the phone to his co-worker and he's short-tempered with the janitor, revealing cut-throat selfishness and entitlement.
When he's in the stall, he sees a strange message written on the toilet paper and then someone peeking into his stall. Investigating the sounds of a scuffle outside, he realizes he's been locked into the bathroom -- and realizes the person peeking into his stall was himself. And he can't escape... until he's unlocked to the temporal paradox he's found himself in. But doing that means confronting his worst enemy: himself.
Written and directed by Matt Black, this sci-fi short is essentially a puzzle operating on two levels: there's the straightening of twisted timelines as a man tries to escape the time loop he's found himself, which brings kinetic energy and suspense to the storytelling. But there's also an existential puzzle, as Pete must work with his past and future selves to figure it all out. But when you're an arrogant, selfish jerk, that process is a lot harder.
Shot with a lurid moodiness like a corporate thriller and scored with an anxious, dissonant electronic score, the film still finds a lot of fun and even insight in the set-up. Placing a time loop in a public restroom builds some quirkiness into the narrative from the beginning and contours the concept perfectly for the short format. And there's also some biting humor as Pete comes up against his own self, which he does again and again as he tries to figure out the paradox he's in but is hindered by his blowhard attitude.
Time traveling is a complicated idea and the fast pace and sharp dialogue lay it out quickly, but the mechanics don't have to be completely grasped to enjoy the film. Instead, the story smartly yokes the solving of the time travel puzzle to Pete's confrontation with himself. Actor Jacob Daniels' nimble performance as Pete proves to be the film's anchor through all the temporal madness, as his character slowly realizes that working with himself is the true nightmare. He sees the cost of his cut-throat, toxic attitude and treatment of others because the time loops force him to be the victim of it.
If Pete wants any chance to escape the temporal trap he's in, he's got to change his attitude fast -- or else risk being killed by his own desperate, cornered self. By the end of "Stalled," he's a changed man, and that growth is hard-won. It's an eye-opening moment for Pete when the worst version of himself points a gun at himself and has no reservations about pulling the trigger. It's a riveting situation in a short full of such moments, but it also provokes some reflection on how we'd get along with ourselves at our worst, making for an unexpectedly thoughtful ending to a compelling wild ride of a film.