Fantasia 2015: ‘Synchronicity’s’ obtuse storytelling and excellent visuals make for a mixed bag

001 (10)

Directed by Jacob Gentry
Written by Jacon Gentry and Alex Orr
2015, USA

Shadows abound, pierced with swaths of light cut to ribbons by venetian blinds. Odd, angular futurist architecture juts into the sky, illuminated by spotlights from passing flying vehicles. There are fans slowly rotating everywhere. This is the future, after all. There must be fans. If nothing else, Synchronicity cuts an interesting shape, a quasi-dystopian future that seems devoid of affection, warmth. Taken purely on visuals, Synchronicity is top-notch. The problem, then, lies in storytelling.

Synchronicity presents a twisted, tangled pretzel of a narrative, a classic time travel thriller that loops back on itself multiple times, placing the audience in danger of crossed eyes. Narratives this complex have been attempted before, but where Synchronicity falters is how it conveys the narrative. The complex story is made more head-spinning than advisable by some unclear storytelling, making an otherwise good sci-fi thriller into a more baffling experience than it should be.

Our protagonist is Jim Beal (Chad McKnight), a young scientist working on a time travel experiment. Of course, his time machine requires an expensive lump of Mcguffonium, requiring him to get in bed with shady industrialist Klas Meisner (Michael Ironside). At the same time, Jim meets Abby (Brianne Davis), a beguiling woman who seems like a keen ally for Jim. But Jim seems wary of Abby’s advances, and his suspicions lead him down a winding path.

Synchronicity insert

As previously mentioned, Synchronicity‘s strongest quality is its visuals. The production designers were able to craft a convincing and engrossing futuristic landscape on what must have been a relatively small budget using some well placed CGI backdrops, lighting, and excellent location scouting. The most obvious influence is Blade Runner, minus the infusion of Asian style. Ben Lovett’s excellent score, which also channels Vangelis’ Blade Runner synth tracks a bit too hard at times, additionally provides Synchronicity with a moody, trance-like soundscape.

However, problems arise when Synchronicity fills the world its created with a story. Like most time travel thrillers, Synchronicity is complicated, a mind-bender in the classic sense that challenges the audience to keep up with a story full to bursting with time travel shenanigans. But the film often leaves the viewer confused with vague, confusing explanations of major plot points and turns. Of course, there’s more than enough room for films that challenge their audience with a narrative that has to be untangled and teased out through discussion and multiple viewings. But Synchronicity seems too unwilling to slow down and help the viewer make some sense of all this on their first viewing, which may lead to many leaving the theater more confused and frustrated than satisfied.

In terms of characters, the film does fine. AJ Bowen does what he does best, playing a likeable and sometimes comedic role as one of Jim’s fellow scientists. Chad McKnight, burdened with the most intense role in the film, holds up well, walking the line between an everyman grappling with some self-destructive and occasionally misogynistic tendencies and a full-on obsessive. Brianne Davis, while initially comes across as a stock femme fatale/mysterious dream-girl, slowly brings out more depth as the film goes on, presenting a much more realized character by the end. Michael Ironside, bless him, is in classic form, speaking in an intimidating rumble and being altogether imposing and scary. It isn’t a complex role, but he pulls it off with gusto.

Synchronicity is a somewhat hard film to judge on first viewing. The visuals are grade-a, but the storytelling leaves something to be desired, making an already complicated plot harder to follow by being too obtuse and vague. Perhaps with repeat viewings Synchronicity will untangle itself, but simply viewed once, it feels as frustrating and vague an experience as a rewarding one.

– Thomas O’Connor

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