Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Notable Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef
Benson and Moorhead have certainly made their mark on genre cinema in the last ten years. Multiple films that bridged fantasy, horror, and science fiction with thoughtful drama, humor, and artfulness have all been met with critical and audience praise. Their approach to high brow angles on classic B-grade concepts makes for provocative and impressive filmmaking and their latest, Synchronic, only solidifies the pattern of their abilities as directors and writers. Dark, heartfelt, and character-driven, the science fiction thrills of the film inspires thought as much as it entertains. It’s an especially effective balance and the combination of skills provides a film that is lifted above what might have been a lost plot in less talented hands. Synchronic is anything but lost in time. It’s timely and timeless.
When a couple of overnight paramedics (Mackie and Dornan) start seeing a rash of strange deaths and violent occurrences on their route in New Orleans, they begin to realize that there is a pattern and a drug called Synchronic is at the crux of it. When Dennis’ (Dornan) daughter goes missing, Steve (Mackie) starts to piece together the sequence of events to find her. And it may require him to use this new drug to break the boundaries of time and space to do so.
After the mind-bending elements of their previous film, The Endless, perhaps it’s not shocking that Benson and Moorhead would decide to maintain that momentum with another film that focuses on many of the same concepts and themes. Instead of brotherhood, it’s long time ‘brotherly’ friendship. Instead of the strange timelessness of a cult, it’s the time leaping aspects of a new drug called Synchronic. These themes about family found and lost, the daunting tension of one’s own timeline counting down, and an overarching sense of purpose and drive for characters make Synchronic a densely layered piece of cinema and one that often lingers long after the credits have rolled – particularly with the final moments that it lands on.
Synchronic is not only a thoughtful piece of cinema, but it’s entertainingly well-executed beyond the script. The film is anchored by a nuanced, often humorous but heartfelt performance from Mackie as a paramedic looking for redemption and a purpose. Dornan balances it remarkably well as the second lead, but Mackie impressively handles most of the weight of the material. The manner that the film blends in its science-fiction elements on its obvious budget is smartly accomplished, particularly with its starkly intense visuals. Benson and Moorhead slather the film in fantastical visuals and editing. Just look for a single take moment in the opening scene that showcases their intentions and skills. None of the genre elements ever feel out of place within the more dramatic foundations and this is a testament to the impressiveness of the film.
With its gorgeous cinematography, rock-solid performances, and impeccable direction, Synchronic is only further proof that smart and effective science fiction is still alive and well. It works on the surface to entertain and entice to be timely, but its nuance of character, theme, and style is what will make it timeless. Not too shabby for the time travel genre which is often as convoluted as it is confusing.