United States. Directed by Jacob Gentry, 2015. Starring Chadrian McKnight, Brianne Davis, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Michael Ironside. 101 minutes. 5/10
Few ideas in science fiction tantalize or intrigue like that of time travel. But let’s get real: if it were possible, what would we actually do with it? That question has an obvious answer, succinctly summed up in a line of dialogue in the last act of Synchronicity, the latest film from writer/director Jacob Gentry (The Signal, My Super Psycho Sweet 16): we’d use it to get laid.
Admittedly, that’s probably not how the film’s protagonist, Jim Beale (Chadrian McKnight), thinks of it. Beale and his two assistants (played by genre stalwarts AJ Bowen and Scott Poythress) conduct cutting-edge research on time travel through the creation and manipulation of wormholes, but they depend on venture capitalist Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside) for financing. Matters complicate further when Abby (Brianne Davis), a raven-haired gothic bombshell with a mysterious connection to Meisner, enters the picture. Beale quickly falls for her, and she seems to reciprocate…but mysterious forces seem to conspire to keep them apart. In order to learn the truth and win Abby’s heart, Beale makes a snap decision that could prove to have disastrous consequences.
Synchronicity’s publicity makes much of comparisons to Dark City, whose influence manifests most clearly in the film’s “future noir” imagery and puzzle-box plot construction. If you can forgive the film’s depopulated locales (presumably due to the low budget, although it does add to a lovely eerie atmosphere throughout), the occasional crummy CGI, and what I’ve dubbed “That Ubiquitous Blue Filter,” Synchronicity certainly looks good. Similarly, its plotting impresses with its cleverness.
Yet its lack of thematic depth and world-building keeps Synchronicity from standing beside influences such as Dark City, Blade Runner, and (less obviously) Donnie Darko. It may seem unfair to constantly judge the film in the light of its forebears, but by constantly going out of his way to invite those comparisons, Gentry leaves the audience little choice. The odd, retro-futuristic devices and dystopian trappings look nice, but they’re only there for show. Similarly, The film has little insight or substance to say about human relationships, and doesn’t seem particularly interested in thought-provoking philosophical flights of fancy. That’s not to say the it’s all style and no substance, but what you see is largely what you get. Like too many “puzzle movies,” once solved, it gives the viewer little reason to tackle it again.
That all being said, Synchronicity has enough in its favor to justify a look see. McKnight and Davis work as the leads, possessing enough chemistry to make a romantic subplot even if you can’t imagine their relationship lasting much past the end titles. But the real MVPs are the support players, especially Ironside, who seems to relish the chance to play a somewhat different kind of villain. Bowen also turns in a strong performance, proving once again why he’s the go-to guy for movies like this. Composer Ben Lovett also deserves special mention for his score; while retro analog-synth-based scores have become all the rage over the past few years, he delivers one of the few truly distinct examples of the form since It Follows.
As much as I enjoyed Synchronicity, it sadly seems destined to obscurity. It doesn’t distinguish itself enough to merit eventual cult classic status.