Our coverage of the 19th annual Fantasia Film Festival begins with an independent science-fiction time travel throwback that’s secretly from another genre.
Let’s bitch it out…
Welcome to bitchstolemyremote‘s coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival for 2015. The Montreal-based film fest celebrates the best of horror, science fiction, anime and foreign genre films every July-August and we’re incredibly excited to attend a number of screenings over the next week (the fest runs through Aug 5. Visit the website here).
First on the docket is Jacob Gentry’s latest film, Synchronicity.
Plot Synopsis: In the near future, physicist Jim Beale (Chad Mcknight) and his team invent a time travel machine. After running a simulation for wealthy investor Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside), Jim begins to suffer debilitating headaches and blackouts, but he’s determined to press on. As Meisner plays hardball with regards to funding and ownership of the machine, Jim begins a dangerous relationship with Meisner’s mistress, Abby (Brianne Davis), who may or may not be trustworthy. When the time for a second simulation comes, Jim makes a rash decision to follow his heart and protect both his invention and Abby by jumping into the wormhole to the past, convinced that he can correct his problems armed with knowledge from the future.
What Works: First and foremost, Gentry (part of the directing team for indie horror darling, The Signal) has crafted an exceptionally good looking film. The press release notes his affinity for sci-fi noir films like Blade Runner, Gattaca and Memento and those influences come across strongly in the look and feel of the film. One of Synchronicity’s most interesting narrative decisions is its lack of specificity around time and location: at one point a character jokingly suggests Future Jim is from “five minutes in the future”, but it is never completely clear when or where the film is set. This isn’t exceedingly important since the majority of the scenes are interiors, but the mix of present (the diner where Jim and Abby drink), the future (a hotel Jim seeks refuge at) and the past (old timey-dictaphone and videocasette recorders in Jim’s lab) mark Synchronicity‘s deliberate non-specificity.
The noir influence comes across loud and clear in the mise-en-scene. The pictures included in this review are incredibly representative of the chiaroscuro lighting, which heavily references Bladerunner (the synthesizer score doesn’t hurt, either) and other neo-noirs of the 80s. The references are perfectly in keeping with the narrative, which finds Jim taking on the role of both the PI and the wronged man, desperately trying to stay afloat amidst conspiracies and plots that are beyond him. As our semi-unreliable protagonist, Gentry regular McKnight makes for a solid lead, even when Jim becomes increasingly desperate and mildly unhinged as the timeline spirals out of his control.
Bowen, a horror regular after appearances in The Signal, The Sacrament, The House of the Devil and You’re Next, winds up being one of the most enjoyably relatable characters in the film. Chuck is both comic relief and (relatively speaking) he’s the most composed member of Jim’s team; his character helps ground the middle portion of the film when Jim initially travels back to the past.
Fans of Ironside unfortunately should note that his role is more of a cameo. Although Meisner is the instigator of most of the drama, his character isn’t a real presence in the film. Thankfully when Ironside does appear onscreen, he’s the same gruff asshole we know and love.
What Doesn’t Work: First and foremost it is important to note that Synchronicity is more of a romantic thriller than a time travel film. The narrative is propelled primarily by Jim’s interest in Abby, not by his desire to explore the scientific possibilities of his machine. While Jim regularly references scientific properties such as constants, facts, theories, etc, this dialogue is lip service to Jim’s status as a physicist (in fact most of his actions in the film go against scientific principles). Immediately after Jim returns to the past, Chuck tries to reason with him to stay put because Jim is now part of the experiment; naturally Jim completely disregards this and spends the majority of the film running around. Obviously staying put would prove narratively stagnant and end up complicating the timelines, it’s hard to argue with Chuck that Jim is indeed a bit of an asshole who simply wants to use his time travel machine to get laid. In short: Synchronicity is less Primer and more Predestination. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at the end of the day, the film is much more interested in Jim and Abby than it is about time travel. The machine and its logistics are simply a means to an end to investigate the will they / won’t they relationship stuff.
This brings me to the other (minor) issue with the film, which is Davis’ Abby. The actress has a Jennifer Lawrence look that makes her quite appealing (hetero film fans will appreciate her costuming, which frequently leaves little to the imagination), but the role as written and Davis’ acting ability don’t quite connect. In the first act, when Jim is still trying to figure Abby out, she’s meant to be a femme fatale, a seductive woman who spells doom for our hero. In this capacity Davis doesn’t deliver: she’s never convincingly dangerous enough. As the secrets of her liaisons with Future Jim and (to a lesser extent) Meisner are revealed, Abby becomes less of a malevolent figure and more of a romantic lead. Here Davis fares better, but overall it’s the least successful performance in the film, which is problematic when the narrative hinges on our romantic investment in Jim and Abby’s (very brief) relationship.
It probably goes without saying that as a time travel film, things get a little needlessly complicated in the third act. Viewers who are paying attention should have no trouble following along, but as Jim becomes increasingly frenzied and sick as the film reaches its climax, the flop sweat required to wrap up all of the dangling plot threads starts to show. At ~100 minutes, a light trimming of the run time could have helped with the uneven pacing in the middle section of the film and helped usher in the film’s (inevitable) conclusion in a more expedient fashion.
- Technically speaking, Gentry does a great job with the limited world building and the set design. With that said, there’s one major plot point involving a second failed experiment that absolutely doesn’t work because it is unclear what happened. The aftermath in particular is poorly handled: it’s the equivalent of a narrative shrug despite dialogue earlier in the film that infers a mistake of this nature could destroy the world.
- One big challenge for viewers is overlooking the fact that Jim and Abby fall so hard for each other in only a few days. As a result, I really appreciated the quick line of dialogue that explicitly references this fact. It doesn’t exactly appease the issue, but acknowledging it certainly helps.
Bottom Line: Synchronicity is an entertaining independent film that’s executed with solid technical craftmanship. Audiences who go in knowing that it’s more of a romantic thriller than a full-fledged time travel flick should have an entertaining experience.
Schronicity has one more Fantasia Film Festival screening Thursday, July 30 at 12:15pm. The film is currently seeking distribution.
Look for more Fantasia Film Festival coverage over the coming week.