Night two was Sci-Fi night at this year’s Toronto After Dark, and was largely occupied by Rooster Teeth fans in attendance for the Canadian debut of Lazer Team. That left a small, but diehard, crowd of festivalgoers for Synchronicity, a time travel romance in the style of Blade Runner produced by the creators of 2007’s The Signal. And let’s not beat around the bush, this is meant to look like Blade Runner.
During the Q&A, the moderator tried to dance around this fact while asking a question and the production designer cut him off, saying, “Jacob [the director] said up front that he wanted this to look like Blade Runner”. That means we’ve got high technology next to reel-to-reel players, Venetian blinds and beautifully composited shots of the Atlanta skyline with dozens of spotlight-wielding helicopters on patrol. The production design is practically another character in the film and it is wonderful to the watch. The script, however, is somewhat less inspiring.
Chad McKnight (who strongly resembles a young Mark Ruffalo) plays Jim Beale, the kind of scientist who wears a three-piece suit while inventing time travel. He and his team — Chuck (played by A.J. Bowen) and Matt (Scott Poythress), both of whom are great side characters — have created a stable wormhole device that can be used to send matter through space and time.
In one of the more inspired pieces of writing, their technology acts as both a wormhole broadcaster and receiver. They only have one sample of the MacGuffin — a kind of ultra-nuclear fuel called MRD controlled by Michael Ironside’s Klaus Meisner — so, Jim will initially use the wormhole device as a receiver, in the hopes that something uniquely identifiable will come through, proving that the wormhole works and setting up a causal loop that the team will fulfill in the future. After verifying that whatever object came through is genuine, Meisner will supply a second sample of MRD to the team to use to send the object back to themselves in the past, closing the loop.
After their first test, a dahlia under a glass case appears, as well as a brief flash on the monitors. Jim is convinced that a person also came through the wormhole and initially believes that it is Abby (played by Brianne Davis), a woman who shows up outside the lab moments after the test. While she insists that she is not a time traveler, the dahlia is in fact hers. Jim realizes that he must have some kind of relationship with Abby in the future and chose the dahlia as the object to send through the device because of it.
This leads to a romance between the two, which is short-lived because of Jim’s insecurities and belief that Abby is either romantically involved with or working for Klaus Meisner. Because the dahlia is actually a rare collector’s item licensed to Abby by Meisner, Jim has to sell him a 99% ownership stake in the wormhole device in return of use of the flower. Jim agrees, but when they use the device the second time, he also goes through to try and fix his mistakes with Abby and see if both his work and his relationship can coexist. This is the end of the first act.
Wait — the first act? Yes, there is still about an hour of movie left as Gentry’s script wanders through paradoxes, shifting timelines and the potentialities of parallel universes. I’ll stop the summary here, though, because while the script is very convoluted and ultimately a bit disappointing, this is definitely a worthwhile film for hardcore science fiction fans to check out and to continue would spoil the more intricate plot points.
There is no question that this is a confusing movie. Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, the production designer who spent his time on the shoot dumpster diving and breaking into hotels to achieve the awesome retro-future style, was in attendance and mentioned that this was actually his first time seeing the entire cut of the movie. When asked during the Q&A what his first reaction to Synchronicity was, Gordon replied simply: “confused”. To paraphrase him slightly,
I’ve read the script a hundred times to figure out how to dress the sets and what the tone should be, and I’m still really confused by it.
Me, too, Jeffrey. But, despite my confusion, I was charmed by Synchronicity. It is far from perfect, but the strong performances, inspired production design and the interesting ideas left me mostly satisfied.
- The director was clearly intent on achieving an 80s feel throughout the film, and this comes through in the production design, the wardrobe and also the choice of the film style. This means that the whole thing looks like a bad VHS to DVD transfer. I get what they were going for, but it really just makes the whole thing look shitty. There are several shots where there is clearly a digital zoom being used and it looks terrible. The wonderful realization of the production design is really held back by this choice.
- I can’t decide whether I loved or hated the wormhole sequences. They are bold, yellow-orange soaked frames evoking fractals and lava lamps and burst on to the screen with deep resonant tones and thrums. But, I couldn’t help but think they also looked a lot like early iTunes visualizers.
- A critical plot point is that the MacGuffin has to be rotated by Matt to the left in the device or it will fail and Matt can’t tell his right from his left. It is beyond belief that Jim and Chuck would stake their reputation, millions of dollars, and perhaps the fate of the universe on this. How hard would it have been to pick a more believable problem? Say, the MRD is unstable and needs to be constantly manipulated during the wormhole process and because it creates large and shifting magnetic fields, a machine can’t do it, only a human can.
- Another script problem are the changes in the timeline. Without spoiling too much, things are subtly different after Jim goes back in time. Some of the differences are just slightly extended scenes that are otherwise the same. I couldn’t tell if we were just seeing a slightly different angle on the same events. Other things are definitely meant to be different, such as a bartender played by two different actors, but are mostly too small to notice before the film spells them out for us with some Sixth Sense-style flashbacks.
- All of the driving scenes and hero shots of Atlanta during Golden Hour were pretty to look at, but they remind me of something. I can’t quite put my finger on it…
- Based on cheers and applause, the highlight for the crowd was McKnight, Gordon and producer Alexander Motlagh revealing that they basically snuck an entire film crew into the W Hotel in Atlanta for some guerrilla shooting.
- “Klaus Meisner” is perhaps the best bad guy name ever.