Thursday, January 21, 2016

Synchronicity

Fans of Timecrimes and Primer might enjoy Synchronicity, the newest film from writer/director Jacob Gentry. I haven't seen any of his previous movies (I hear The Signal was well-liked), but this low-budget indie is a solid piece of science fiction that handles the concept of time travel with the kind of precision geeks will appreciate.

Synchronicity
Director: Jacob Gentry
Starring: Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis, AJ Bowen, Michael Ironside



In the not-too-distant future, physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) leads a three-person team in an attempt to create time travel. Their experiments rely on a powerful substance called MRD that is only manufactured by a single company, run by a shady businessman (Michael Ironside) whose mysterious female companion (Brianne Davis) proves integral to Jim's future. When Jim is essentially blackmailed into giving up the rights to his time machine in exchange for the material necessary to complete his experiment, he ends up desperately sending himself back in time to try to figure a way out of his situation.


McKnight (who looks like a cross between Shane Carruth and Tom Welling) brings an appreciated soulfulness to Jim, Ironside does his usual Ironside thing in a small part, and Davis tries her best to embody a noir-ish femme fatale, but it's A.J. Bowen as Jim's sidekick/lab partner Chuck who comes off as the most natural of the bunch. As much as I like the concept of this movie, some of the dialogue feels more like "movie dialogue" than anything real people would actually say; an early lecture about the history of Tesla vs. Edison struck me as the worst offender in that regard.

But whatever shortcomings the script has are overshadowed by the exceptional atmosphere Gentry creates. The production design evokes Blade Runner with its metallic walls and smoky vibe, as spotlights constantly rove outside and stream through horizontal window shutters, casting shadows everywhere. Much of the movie takes place at night, and avoiding daylight helps keep the audience on our heels when it comes to knowing exactly when the action on screen is supposed to be taking place. The production is obviously limited by a relatively small budget, but they're able to make the most of what they have with a lot of slick location shooting that adds credibility to world-building. There's a great use of macro photography, conjuring imagery that looks like an exploding sun as a visual cue for time travel, recalling the way Darren Aronofsky used similar close-ups in The Fountain to great effect.


But the best part of the movie may be the editing, also by Gentry himself. Every storyteller uses editing as a tool, but this one utilizes a style in which we almost float through the movie from scene to scene; it turns out to be hugely important in how we learn about events in the movie because we don't see everything play out in a completely linear way. The movie jumps around enough to make sense as a character progresses through the story, but then when time travel is factored in and the same character is operating twice in the same timeline, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part 2, it will reveal that a different version of that character is just off screen, recontextualizing what we know up to that point.

I don't want to dive deeper into plot specifics because half of this movie's fun is watching how it all plays out, but I will say that the ending was slightly underwhelming and I never fully bought the central romance, which is a big problem since the whole movie hinges on that single relationship. Still, I was interested in what happened next and anxious to see how Gentry tied it all together. I don't think he stuck the landing, but there's enough good stuff here — including a killer synth score — to make this worth recommending to sci-fi buffs looking for a new time travel movie to obsess over.

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