Making a sci-fi film on a limited budget can be a risky prospect. Filmmakers like Shane Carruth, Jonathan Glazer, and Alex Garland have found recent success crafting their low-budget sci-fis by doing away with elaborate and expansive production designs, as well as large-scale action sequences. Instead, it was their complex ideas and themes that were placed at the forefront. “Synchronicity,” on the other hand, has an elaborately detailed production design, a distinctive and inspired visual style, and despite being set in the future, it never comes across as a cheap SyFy film. It may lack the cerebral and thematic complexities of “Upstream Color” or “Ex Machina,” but “Synchronicity” still works — mostly because it’s a throwback sci-fi noir that’s largely entertaining and, on a technical level, is admirably well-crafted.
Written and directed by Jacob Gentry (“The Signal”), “Synchronicity” wears its influences on its sleeve. The main visual inspiration is most obviously “Blade Runner” as the film goes through great efforts to emulate the look of those vast cityscapes, particularly during its establishing shots. And, like Ridley Scott’s film, the movie has a constant hazy, smoky sheen throughout. Gentry appears to be really fascinated with 1980s sci-fi; you get the impression that the design of the film represents a 1980s vision of the future. The videoscreens, the boxy computers, the dated cell phones — none of the technology used on screen appears to acknowledge any of the subsequent advances that’ve been made in the last decade or so. And honestly? There are times when “Synchronicity” feels as if it could have been made in the ‘80s. That has to be some sort of an accomplishment.
With all this in mind, “Synchronicity” isn’t just some love letter to “Blade Runner,” it’s actually pretty damn good in its own right. While the plot and some of the characters’ behavior initially comes across as odd and incomprehensible, it really starts to come together in a surprising way once you get past all the time travel technical jargon from the first half hour. “Synchronicity” also entertains partly because it knows how to have fun with itself. The characters feel grounded and down-to-earth despite living in a world where time travel is possible. And time is made for these characters to have brief moments of levity in the midst of this serious, mind-bending adventure they find themselves in.
The film follows physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) who, along with his team, invents a device that can bend space and time and create a wormhole. This wormhole can send something (or someone) back in time, but Jim Beale has difficulty proving it can work. His first experiment resulted in receiving an exotic flower, a dahlia, from the future, but he can’t prove that it was ever sent back into the past. This doesn’t go over well with his investor, a greedy venture capitalist named Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside) whose funding is desperately needed in order for this device to keep operating.
The first half of the film is a clash between the physicist and Klaus Meisner. First, Klaus is unimpressed by the device, but over time, Jim begins to suspect that he’s trying to acquire complete and total ownership over it. After all, Jim discovers that this dahlia flower he received from the future happens to have Klaus Meisner’s name on it. But how? And when Jim discovers the very same flower in the apartment of a young woman named Abby (Brianne Davis), who just seduced him, it only exacerbates Jim’s paranoia.
Describing the plot any further would be a disservice to those who’re curious to see the movie. “Synchronicity” has quite a few amusing twists and turns up its sleeve. The story that unfolds in this film is not wholly original, as time travel has been tackled in sci-fi so many times before, making it difficult for this tale really stand out from other, similar fare. Still, the way Gentry constructed the story is pretty clever and there’s almost a sense of glee to the film as it explores all the concepts and ideas that the first 40 minutes set up.
The film’s narrow focus on the plot can be a little too intense at times, which eventually starts to become a problem. Gentry plays with time in a way that’s reminiscent to Christopher Nolan films such as “Memento” and “The Prestige.” But whereas Nolan gives his films enough time to explore his characters, “Synchronicity” is too focused on getting from point A to point B to really allows its characters to grow. As a result, we don’t get to spend enough time on the budding relationship between Jim and Abby to understand how they’ve eventually come to have such strong feelings for each other. This keeps “Synchronicity” from being as emotionally involving as it could have been.
And while it’s nice to see veteran character actor Michael Ironside in fine form as the movie’s villain, he’s essentially sidelined in the second half as the movie deals with other concerns. This, in turn, makes the ending of “Synchronicity” feel a bit underwhelming and Ironside’s character ultimately comes across as one-dimensional.
Moreover, the tightly constructed plot leaves a few missed opportunities to give the audience a better sense of the world in which this movie takes place. Given the limited budget, one can’t expect “Blade Runner”-level immersion, but you really don’t get any sense about the world around these characters whatsoever. In the background of several shots, you see helicopters hovering over the city, shining searchlights everywhere, but we never get any further exploration of the setting. Little details here and there could’ve given us a better understanding of these characters and their motivations, which would have given “Synchronicity” more depth.
These types of flaws keeps “Synchronicity” from really rising above its limitations to become something legitimately great, and that may prevent some people from embracing the film. But, there’s simply a goofy charm to the entire proceeding that ultimately makes “Synchronicity” feel like a success. You have to hand it to Jacob Gentry for crafting a film that really does appear to be from another era. By the time the movie ends, you will be left with two questions: first, how did it look that good? And, what could Jacob Gentry do if he had a mainstream studio budget to play with? As with time travel, you can only marvel at the possibilities. [B]