One of the many cool things Toronto After Dark does is they’ve pitched a wide tent for themselves. The gory heart of the festival is and will probably always be grand guignol horror, with its gouts of blood and maniacal glee. But they like to stretch out in other directions, too. Friday was sci-fi night, and I caught an offbeat futuristic thriller of sorts, a weird little gem called Synchronicity (2015). Not really a horror film per se, director Jacob Gentry’s edgy sci-fi noir is a time-traveling paean to Ridley Scott’s 80s masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). But can a low-budget indie live up to one of the most influential movies of the past forty years? Is that the future we’re living in?
Physicist Jim Beale is determined to crack time travel. Played with quirky intensity by Chad McKnight, he and his team are working all hours to bring his invention online, a manmade wormhole fuelled by a rare radioactive isotope. The work is backed by a single investor, Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside, turning in another delicious bad guy cuz that’s what he does), a heavy-handed skeptic and the sole source of the isotope Jim requires. The experiment brings a strange flower, a glass-encased dahlia, through from the future, but its origins are unclear. Meisner is dubious, pulling his funding and questioning Jim’s ability. Chasing down Meisner as he leaves the lab, Jim instead bumps into a mysterious woman, Brianne Davis in the femme fatale role of Abby. The two strike up an immediate, odd chemistry, and shortly Jim’s attraction to Abby is consuming him more than his scientific quest. But Abby might be in cahoots with Meisner, as the scheming tycoon tries to wrest control of Jim’s invention away from him. Firing up his manmade wormhole with the only isotope sample he has, Jim jumps back over the course of a few crucial days trying to unravel the mystery and save his creation.
The mystery of the film is intriguing, and it’s a smart ploy for a low-budget indie to zero in tightly on plot where it can’t compete with the digital vistas and frenetic action of big budget sci-fi flicks. Gentry’s decision to directly cop the visual style of Blade Runner is part inspired, part red herring. It succeeds in creating a distinctive and believable vision of a near-term future. The limited cityscapes are carefully chosen with great forward-looking architecture and cool blue lighting. Jim Beale’s lab is pretty low-fi, but it’s amazing how much real science doesn’t look the part. Ever look at those clunky NASA computers? The misty luminescence that permeated Scott’s vision for Blade Runner is recreated here too, but begins to feel like an overly forced quotation. When the images are too direct, like Jim and Abby making out for the first time in the glowing haze of her apartment, the film can’t help but suffer by comparison. Deckard and Rachael’s Blade Runner apartment tryst is a deranged classic scene of mixed noir emotions that Synchronicity can’t hope to match. In truth, with (probably much) less than a tenth of the budget of its gleaming inspiration, Synchronicity doesn’t come close to Blade Runner‘s breathtaking images, star wattage or philosophical depth. Which is too bad, because it’s a decent little film. But like his over-ambitious protagonist, Gentry opened that door.
Synchronicity is at its best mining the paradoxes of time travel. Odd interactions in the early going come to make more sense later, as the threads of Jim’s investigation begin to cross in time. (One thing that’s always bugged me about many a time travel fiction is the idea that you and your doppelgänger shouldn’t exist in the same time, or there will be catastrophic consequences. Because why? What makes your atoms so special? To me, you’d be just another being, with almost but not quite the same consciousness. And you’d talk or hit each other or whatever the end. Even killing your other self is no big deal. You’d just delete yourself entirely from the history you once occupied, altering it utterly but with no visible effect to anyone else involved, for what now was would be how it always had been. Heh, that’s the thing about time travel. All the stupid verb tenses.) As Gentry’s concocted it, Jim’s travels have a variety of consequences, the most dire impacting his own self. The plot zigs and zags, to the point that rescuing his invention begins to feel pretty secondary, but it all comes together in interesting fashion. In the end, as Abby and Jim meet for what feels like the fourth or fifth time, they don’t know how long they’ve got together. As Deckard says at the end of Blade Runner, who does?
The film’s producer announced at the Toronto After Dark screening that Synchronicity has been picked up for distribution, so expect to see it some time in 2016.