Written and Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
Starring Jamie Dornan, Anthony Mackie, Katie Aselton, Alexia Ioannides, Shane Brady, Bill Oberst Jr., Natasha Tina Liu, Martin Bats Bradford, Devyn A. Tyler, Lawrence Turner, Aaron Groben, Betsy Holt, Walker Babington, Sam Malone, and Carl Palmer.
Two New Orleans paramedics’ lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.
Coming away from Synchronic I was a little taken aback at how simplistic the approach is to high concept sci-fi, but it’s also something I will take any day over the rather characterless/style over substance mindset that plagued a recent blockbuster’s attempt to save the theatrical experience. Yes, the latest effort from the highly regarded indie duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless) has a juicy helping of what Christopher Nolan seems to be caring less and less about these days; characterization and actually engaging viewers into a trippy narrative beyond the mechanics of its gimmick. With that said, I’m not saying I would encourage people to go see Synchronic in an actual theater during a global health crisis, but I sure wish I risked myself watching it in an auditorium instead of Tenet.
Surely as a result of their stellar filmmaking work so far, the pair have attracted some notable star power to Synchronic, starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as tightknit paramedics frequently coming across bizarre graphic deaths of random civilians that experiment with the new titular designer drug. However, before introducing these characters properly we are given a taste of the psychedelic effects as a prologue shows a couple of junkies freaking the hell out and seemingly being transported to another place in time, all with hypnotic visuals and luscious scenery (Aaron Moorhead once again tackles photography duties).
It can feel slightly repetitive watching Steve and Dennis going from incident to incident, although the script does two things to keep viewers invested; it cares about these characters, namely Steve who is suffering from a cancerous tumor and doesn’t quite feel up to telling anyone. It also becomes known that for scientific reasons involving this tumor, Steve can experience the effects of the experimental drug the same way its intended younger demographic is capable of doing. Meanwhile, Dennis seemingly has the American dream in the form of a wife and kids, yet takes it for granted which naturally inevitably paves the way for thoughtful dialogue exchanges once he learns of Steve’s cancer. There is also a good deal of juxtaposition between their lifestyles without that knowledge, as Steve tends to dull the pain of having no family left by getting into sexual hookups and popping painkillers.
There is also the curiosity of these injuries coming in different forms, whether it be from someone impaled by a sword or burnt to a crisp. Viewers will most likely have a strong idea of what’s going on, so Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead know they have to give Steve a strong reason for taking this drug himself and figuring out the rules behind it. He wants to make the most of his limited time left, and while his mission is somewhat cliché and will probably leave most with a few questions, it’s largely entertaining watching him be kicked around to an old Bayou all the way to the Ice Age. Having said that bit, it’s probably not too difficult to figure out what’s actually going on in Synchronic.
Anthony Mackie is outstanding in the role as someone determined to use his limited time to not only make a breakthrough regarding understanding the effects of the drug but also saving a life. He shifts in and out of the present time, coming back with amusing reactions to the insanity, in turn expressing that these filmmakers are also having fun with this movie just as much as they want to explore the meaning of time, living in the moment, and the beauty of the present. It doesn’t necessarily amount to anything profoundly moving, but the heart is there plus Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead slickly edit together sequences of both time travel and past and present to more strikingly illustrate its vision.
Synchronic is not out to confuse or blow minds and it doesn’t have to, considering Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are confident enough in letting the brainy concept speak for itself with relatable characters grounding the core story into something familiar but moving. Let’s hope that even if their budgets increase and they continue to work with exciting stars, they keep characterization and story at the forefront of their philosophically ambitious sci-fi works
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com