'Synchronicity': Fantasia Review

Courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival
An atmosphere-thick time travel puzzler.

Do time-travelers dream of electric sheep?

Sometimes the measure of a time-travel picture isn't so much whether you completely follow (or buy) its logic as how much you enjoy the trip. So it is with Jacob Gentry's Synchronicity, which casts a compelling retro-futuristic spell and stays true to this atmosphere to the end. Embracing film noir by way of Blade Runner cues viewers to think twice before deciding they understand this picture's femme fatale or what its hero will do for her, an admission that romantic logic will trump physics where necessary. Connoisseurs of low-budget but serious sci-fi will applaud the film, which has modest theatrical potential on its way to a solid genre berth on video.

Chad McKnight plays physicist Jim Beale, who is down to the wire on experiments meant to open a wormhole and prove something can be sent through it to another point in time. (Assuming he doesn't make the universe collapse on itself instead.) His machine requires the exotic radioactive fuel MRD, which he can only purchase with the help of gruff venture capitalist Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside, a signifier of '80s geek cred both here and in Fantasia entry Turbo Kid), who is less interested in epoch-changing scientific discoveries than in how he might profit from them.

After his first test of the wormhole machine releases a human traveler who escapes the lab before anyone gets a good look, Jim stumbles into a flirtation with Abby (Brianne Davis), a maybe-mistress of Klaus who has a suspiciously strong grasp of the history of inventors and their financiers. Just as the two are about to get physical, though, Jim gets a call from lab partner Chuck (AJ Bowen): "Stay away from that girl," he says mysteriously.

Is Abby part of a scheme to swindle Jim out of ownership of his invention? Why has Jim been suffering piercing headaches since he turned the thing on? And what's with the exotic breed of dahlia (it would have to be Chandler- and Ellroy-evoking dahlia, not some run-of-the-mill flower) that showed up in the lab right after the experiment? Puzzling over these questions, Jim inevitably tries sending himself back a few days to the mystery's beginning.

Gentry's tense screenplay works well on its own, but gets a big assist from music and production design intent on conjuring some very specific moods. Sunlight slashes through Venetian blinds in hazy interiors, some of them (like Abby's apartment) so familiar one expects to find a whiskered Rick Deckard dozing on the couch. Ben Lovett's Moog-played score recalls Vangelis without aping him, and Gentry even observes a glass elevator from a canted angle to evoke the Tyrell Corporation's temple-like headquarters. All signs point to Blade Runner, and while we're not in that tale's futuristic environs, the smart use of distinctive Atlanta architecture by John Portman gives the picture its own flavor. It's well suited to a claustrophobic story that winds up being about characters who, not unlike replicants, are forced to ask who exactly they and those around them are.

Production companies: POPfilms, Soapbox Films

Cast: Chad McKnight, AJ Bowen, Brianne Davis, Scott Poythress, Michael Ironside

Director-Screenwriter-Editor: Jacob Gentry

Producers: Christopher Alender, Alexander Motlagh

Director of photography: Eric Maddison

Production designer: Jeffrey Pratt Gordon

Costume designer: Caroline Miller

Music: Ben Lovett

Casting director: Jason L. Wood

No rating, 100 minutes

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