Film

Twisty Indie Time-Travel Puzzler ‘Synchronicity’ Has Spark but Still Sputters

by

An admirably complex tale of time travel, corporate espionage, and high emotions you’ll just have to take everyone’s word on, Jacob Gentry’s science fiction puzzler Synchronicity is so ambitious — and so canny, on occasion — that you might be willing to forgive its indie infelicities. The acting is iffy, especially when the time-traveling hero comes to love the femme fatale he’s just met and who spontaneously lectures about Edison and Tesla. It’s impressive, at first, how much future-lab excitement Gentry and his production team whip up on the cheap, suggesting complex machinery and procedures on sets swathed in fog, bathed in white light. They merely tease the particulars, inviting us to imagine along, but at some point you’ll probably ask, “Hey, why are most rooms in this unnamed city in this not-far-off time built around slowly churning industrial fans?”

Repetitive set dressing might be thematic. Synchronicity returns again and again to its key early scene in which inventor Jim (Chad McKnight) tests some kind of wormhole/particle-transferring contraption that eventually everyone just shorthands to time machine. At first, if “first” has any meaning with time travel, the results prove inconclusive — but wait, why is there suddenly a glassed dahlia in the room? And who is that mysterious beauty, Abby (Brianne Davis), who’s hanging out near the lab? An even more pressing question: Why does Jim immediately spirit that out-of-nowhere beauty with him to a tense and highly secret dinner negotiation with his devious financial backer, a heavy played by Michael Ironside?

Initially, the film seems to truck in quizzical behavior and daft coincidences, but you should quickly gather that you’ll be seeing all this again later, as time travelers dash about manipulating the past. But Synchronicity isn’t accomplished enough for those early hints at timeline interference to play as mysterious. They come across, mostly, as examples of the uncertain filmmaking and storytelling that too often keep this dense, challenging picture from success. Gentry explains, eventually, why the characters turn up in odd places and perform odd acts, but it’s never quite certain why they feel what they’re feeling, or just how seriously we’re meant to take the late-film professions of love.

The cast handles the science babble better than the neo-noir talk, which lapses into Naked Gun goofiness: Abby, wearing a silken robe, says, “This better be good if you wanna see what’s underneath.” Our inventor replies, “I know what’s underneath. Trouble.” Much more successful: the recurring cosmic vision of a pulsing swirl that might be in Jim’s head and might be space-time being born or dying. The image is something like what your eyes do if you look too long at the sun: An albumen of living, glowing, lake-like light surrounds a hard disk of black, a pupil or a penumbral eclipse. It’s gorgeous and unsettling, a suggestion of what this promising writer-director might one day show us.

Synchronicity

Written and directed by Jacob Gentry

Magnet Releasing

Opens January 22

Available on demand