Good performances and wonderful visuals elevate Synchronic, an ambitious yet undercooked indie mystery.
Filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been known thus far for creating films that bend genres and break rules, and their latest effort, Synchronic, is no exception. Two New Orleans paramedics (and best friends) have recently witnessed a few odd deaths, and they soon discover that each death is linked to “synchronic”, a new designer drug.
The effects of this drug soon affects the two directly, when Dennis’ (Jamie Dornan) daughter Brianna (Alexia Loannides) decides to try it, and goes missing shortly after. Dennis finds his whole life beginning to turn around, and his marriage begins to strain; meanwhile, Steve (Anthony Mackie) has made it his personal mission to find the girl. Having been diagnosed with a brain tumor, Steve has recently found out he has mere weeks to live. As a result, he acts a bit more rash than he usually would, as he is trying to come to terms with the inevitability of his death. This makes for a good quality to have in a hero, as he becomes unflinching and willing to do whatever it takes.
What starts out feeling mostly like a crime drama soon morphs into a psychedelic sci-fi adventure. Steve soon discovers that Synchronic is a time travel pill, transporting its users back in history. The rules are specified to the audience, as Steve begins a series of experiments in his living room, finding himself transported back to several eras of time, all determined by the spot where he has ingested the drug. He discovers that Brianna is trapped in the past, but he is unsure of exactly where and when.
There is so much ambition and originality within Synchronic. The concept is fresh, and it offers such an interesting dilemma by blending time travel and death in a way that hasn’t really been done before, as, in this case, traveling to the past means almost never getting out safe. Users of Synchronic end up stunned once the drug hits them, as their brains cannot immediately process what happened or where they are. This leaves them open and vulnerable to any oncoming danger, leading of course to their inescapable demise.
At the same time, the film also can’t help but feel a bit underdeveloped. The concept in itself is fascinating, but the writing takes it in some quite unsatisfying directions, and it feels like more time was needed to really flesh the whole thing out. There is a lot of reliance on exposition to remove a lot of the vagueness in the world about the drug and about what characters are feeling, making the plot feel a bit forced and rushed.
Also flawed is the film’s central message. Synchronic takes a stance against the romanticization of the past: users of the drug are met with traumatic incidents from the past instead of just a simple high, causing them to relive traumatic events in history and leaving them helpless in the arms of danger. The film opts for a more shocking approach rather than using nuances, making it feel a bit less complex and a bit more clichéd, as it could’ve used its style alone to tell the story in a much more interesting way.
Synchronic still an extremely immersive film, thanks to the way it was shot and acted, from Mackie especially. There are several attempts at employing several tones, and they all manage to hit the right beats. Intense emotion and existential dread are balanced out with humor, and it works: in less capable hands, it may not have.
Benson and Moorhead once again focus on human struggles and the need for connection with a sci fi backdrop, and, even if the science can be a bit shaky, it’s all too compelling. The special effects are another sign of passion within the project, giving the film a feel of a high budget when that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and the cinematography is well defined, as there are several very impressive shots throughout.
The confidence in its style and drive in the grand scheme of things help to mask most of Synchronic‘s flaws, namely its rushed script and its unwillingness to take an extremely interesting concept any further. As a result, viewers will still find themselves engrossed by the enthralling performances, visuals, and music.
Synchronic opened in US Theaters & Drive-Ins on Friday, October 23, 2020. The film will be available in the U.K. on digital (premium video on demand) January 29, 2021.
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