Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME
December 13, 2015 12:00 PM EST

The new movie The Big Short takes a subject that is ordinarily as far from exciting as you might think possible—true-life mortgages and bonds—and turns it into what TIME’s critic Stephanie Zacharek calls “a crackerjack entertainment…with a conscience.”

Then again, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that the subject is ripe for drama, given how crazy the mortgages in question actually were.

In 2007, TIME broke down the financial systems that set the movie’s plot in motion. First came “subprime and exotic mortgages that did away with many of the safeguards built into the classic 30-year fixed rate with a 20% down payment.” These special mortgages were meant for just a small slice of home buyers, but they became widely popular during the real-estate bubble. “The demand was coming not so much from borrowers as from Wall Street, which packaged the loans into securities to sell to investors looking to pile into ‘low risk’ real estate,” the article continued. “So mortgage brokers found ways to squeeze buyers into first and second mortgages even when their finances were questionable. Consider the appellation NINJA, used to indicate a buyer with no income, no job and no assets.”

And then it just got worse:

Read the rest of the story, here in the TIME Vault: Real Estate’s Fault Line

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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