Synchronicity Dir. Jacob Gentry

[Magnolia Pictures; 2016]

Styles: sci-fi noir
Others: Blade Runner, Primer, Predestination

How are artists able to pay homage to what’s come before without living in the shadows of their predecessors? It’s tricky to balance tipping the hat to one’s influences without simply aping what’s already been done. Tarantino, Bowie, Kanye West, and Wes Anderson are just a few of those who come to mind when I think of artists who are obviously indebted to others, but who also present their remixed version of those influences in such a way that it becomes strikingly original. Director Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity occasionally dips far too much into the fawning fanboy appeal of desperately trying to emulate Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. But when it’s not replicating what has come before, it’s a pretty original tale of love, betrayal, and time travel that carves out a nice little niche for itself in the already-small subgenre of sci-fi noir.

Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is working tirelessly to build his wormhole generator, forsaking sleep and sanity in order to complete his vision of time travel. He relies on his two assistants, Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matty (Scott Poythress) to help him finish his experiment while also needing the money and resources of sinister capitalist Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside). Amidst all of this craziness enters Abby (Brianne Davis), seemingly Meisner’s mistress but something more to Jim. As the experiment yields unexpected results, Jim must figure out whom he can trust and what he really wants before everything is taken from him.

Gentry (who also co-wrote the film with Alex Orr) does many things very well in this film. He gives Synchronicity an overall aesthetic that feels incredibly thought out, shooting with lens flare and saturated cobalt blues that gives the film a cold feeling, as if it’s a hard sci-fi tale. He also finds locations and designs sets that makes this appear very much in the not too distant future while also making the film appear to be way more expensive than its (probably) modest budget. The problem enters when there are a few too many shots and lighting scenarios that directly recall genre behemoth Blade Runner, with light pouring in to a smoky, shadowy apartment through slits in window coverings (for example). Too often I was reminded of that great film just through shot composition, dialogue, and the music of Ben Lovett. But it’s not so often that the film is ruined or comes off as a pale imitator; instead it’s simply seems to be a nod to an early forebear of the subgenre that Gentry wishes to call back to in his work. So while it is distracting, it is by no means a huge detriment to the film. It just so happens that Blade Runner is one of my favorite and most re-watched films, so perhaps I’m more sensitive to it than most audiences would be.

The acting and writing is spot-on, with interesting characters mingling with otherwise stock filler that adheres to the basics of film noir and sci-fi. Of particular note is Brianne Davis as Abby, who brings an excellent performance to a very well-written role. One moment she’s the femme fatale, the next she’s the damsel in distress, and in the end it appears she’s neither but a wholly original concept that is unlike most female roles written into these types of film. Bowen and Poythress are also great as the nerdy assistants, delivering funny lines and dealing with the various mind fuckery moments of time travel in earnest and relatable ways. Ironside remains a genre stalwart for a reason, oozing sinister self-interest and confidence at every turn, and is a great foible for the otherwise too-determined Beale. Unfortunately, Jim Beale is a rather underwritten role, which is problematic since the audience is with him the entire time of the movie. McKnight does what he can with the part, but ultimately his reasons for performing certain actions that the plot necessitates never comes across as sincere or convincing. For a man who has given so much of his life to this experiment, why is he so distracted by Abby all of a sudden? She’s a compelling character, but there’s nothing in how Beale is written that suggests that he is unfulfilled in love or is usually a passionate man (outside of his time travel endeavors).

Ultimately, Synchronicity is a flawed but worthwhile film. It looks and sounds amazing and poses some very fun time-travel questions that will have audiences discussing and pondering far after the end credits have rolled. The performances are mostly solid and the noir aspects help ground and propel the story from stereotypical sci-fi fare. It occasionally owes too much to its predecessors, but that can be overlooked with all of the stellar, singular work that Gentry has put in to his film. It’s hard to escape the shadow of those who’ve come before. In the case of this film, it’s mostly successful at doing so, but then, as with all time travel stories, the past tends to come back to haunt you.

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