The fastest way to my heart is using a time travel device and going back to a moment in the past prior to my heart existing, and implanting whatever you want. In other words, I love films about time travel, and all the mind-melting paradoxes that come from messing with our singular forward progression of chronology. I wrote a teleplay that involved a time travel device once, and one of the best parts of that was arguing the various theories about split timelines and parallel universes with my co-writer. So I was an easy mark for SYNCHRONICITY, a time travel drama world premiering at Fantasia International Film Festival.
Jacob Gentry, who brought us “The Signal” in 2007, delivers a scifi punch to the brain with SYNCHRONICITY, which follows a scientist’s corporately funded experiment to open a worm hole and see what comes through. This sort of irresponsible science is the bedrock of thrillers, but in this case, it also serves as a backdrop for a love story in which scientist Jim falls for the ‘bad girl’ Abby, who may or may not be involved with the CEO funding his work, then goes back in time to warn himself not to fall for her, only to fall further for her himself. It’s a delicate balance, because on the one hand, this is a film that actually slows down enough to explain the concept of jumping parallel timelines to the audience (which is like cotton candy to me), and yet gets hijacked by the love story so much one of the characters actually says ‘this is all about a girl, isn’t it?’ In the end, the film delivers 85% on each of these story-lines but for the most part, that’s okay, because most films these days deliver 100% of garbage.
Abby (Brianne Davis) is a fascinating character, the way she is pushed and pulled by Jim’s behavior with her is mesmerizing. As the film progresses and we realize that she is dealing with two very different Jims, her performance reveals itself as even more of a triumph. It’s a bit like watching Carrie Ann Moss in “Memento” for the first time: you are desperate for a second view because you know you are being toyed with by a master. Regrettably, Chad McKnight’s Jim has much less to work with. He makes giant leaps in character that do not seem warranted by the situation, and it is hard to pin down just what his goals are. He seems pretty easily distracted despite the fact he is on the verge of the greatest discovery of mankind. In fact, it is hard to believe that anyone with the balls to open a wormhole to who knows where/when, would basically become a love sick mopey teen as the film continues. It feels like the script may have been a few drafts away from being ready.
No where is this more true than in the third act of the film. Without revealing any of the kinks, I’ll just say I was loving this movie until I got completely lost. It felt like the screenwriter (Gentry as well) was throwing in one twist too many and the forward momentum of the film was lost. Honestly I didn’t even know where we were at the end. And yet…. I was basically satisfied. Time travel films are inherently messy. No one will ever completely understand “Primer.” Sometimes everything is tied up in a bow, but usually that comes from a character having an excuse to do that – most recently in Bradley King’s amazing Time Lapse.
What takes SYNCHRONICITY to the next level is that it looks so good. It really is a science noir (with Abby being the perfect femme fatale). The art direction and location scout earned their pay on this one because every set looks flawlessly placed into a future that is both shadowy but very precise at the same time. The lab is especially noteworthy since usually these sort of films often have scientists working in their garage. By adding in the corporate sponsorship angle, Gentry not only ups the ante on thematic material, but sets the stage for a very realistic workspace – with all its lights and flashes and beeps and boops, making a much more visually engaging landscape for this story to play out.
Finally, the supporting cast really adds to the film. Michael Ironside plays the corporate sponsor, and the gravitas he brings to the role properly forces scientist Jim to his knees. I wished he had one more turn for his character though, as he felt a bit flat in terms of what he was allowed to do, a sort of generic big bad wallet holder. A.J. Bowen and Scott Poythress play the other two scientists on the project, and their interplay and humor often steal scenes away from Jim, again supporting my notion that Jim needed a bit of a rewrite – I think he is the least consistent character in SYNCHRONICITY.
But with all its flaws, its still a great ride, and one of the most ‘fun’ I’ve seen at Fantasia so far this year. Gentry’s style sets the film apart and the recipe of equal parts science fiction and romance make for a tasty genre treat.
SYNCHRONICITY made its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival and will screen next on Thursday the 30th. This is another film I would be shocked if it didn’t play Fantastic Fest in Austin in September.