Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Screenplay: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ionnides
Duration: 102 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Two paramedics uncover a bizarre new designer drug on the streets of New Orleans which appears to be affecting people in unexplained ways. When the eldest daughter of one of them vanishes after taking the drug, his partner Steve (Mackie) begins to investigate Synchronic and discovers the disturbing truth about its purpose.
The filmmaking duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been making quite a name for themselves in the genre community over the last 10 years from their breakout micro-budget hit Resolution, through their Lovecraftian inspired sci-fi horror’s Spring and The Endless, their aptitude with slim budgets and big ideas has landed them the gig directing the limited series Moon Knight for Marvel and Disney, due to air on Disney+ hopefully sometime in 2022. Before then, however, Signature have finally released their most recent feature, the 2019 sci-fi drama Synchronic, on Blu-Ray and streaming in the UK.
Synchronic is an interesting beast for Moorhead and Benson fans. While it’s still most definitely an indie production made on a mid-sized budget, it’s their first film to truly star “name” actors, in the form of MCU alum Anthony Mackie and Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan who star as New Orleans paramedics and best friends, Steve and Dennis. The biggest draw of the film is easily watching these two work with the typically high concept material in Benson’s screenplay and their presence elevates what is sadly the duo’s weakest film to date.
The narrative is really split into three strands which ultimately come together. Steve, a typically womanising man with a reluctance to settle down discovers he has a brain tumour and starts to re-evaluate his life. Dennis, a young father with an 18 year old daughter, Brianna, and a new baby is starting to feel the strain of his teenage recklessness on his marriage. Meanwhile, the pair are slowly being drawn into the murky world of Synchronic, a designer drug that is resulting in bizarre and inexplicable deaths and injuries. All three of these strands come to a head when Brianna disappears after taking Synchronic, Dennis’ life starts to unravel and Steve goes on a personal crusade against the drug while trying to find out what happened to his best friends daughter.
For the first half of the film, Synchronic definitely leans heavier into being a drama, following Steve and Dennis on their rounds and the former’s diagnosis and treatment. This is easily the most engaging part of the story as we get to know these two with their past together being revealed via interaction rather than exposition and demonstrates just how well Benson writes characters. We feel their connection, understand their personal issues and get comfortable with them before the mid-story twist as things sail off into a different genre altogether.
It’s tricky talking about the main thrust of Synchronic’s narrative without dipping into spoiler territory, but once the secret of what the drug “does” is revealed, the story seems to lose its focus somewhat. The early suggestion, shown through a couple tripping in the opening sequence that this is a story that will follow in the cosmic horror footsteps of Spring and The Endless is quickly replaced by a more standard and explicable tale which pushes Dennis to the background as Steve becomes the main protagonist of the tale. While this is no bad thing as it’s always a treat to watch Anthony Mackie (just check out The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, particularly the stellar 4th episode) it does make this feel very much like two very disparate films stitched together. There’s also a loose attempt to, within the confines of the narrative, explore some of the concepts of social and racial injustice throughout the history of the US, however these very much feel like tacked on afterthoughts.
It’s by no means a bad tale and it manages to keep its engagement through the charisma of its actors as well as the delicious visuals from Moorhead’s cinematography. From the aforementioned trip sequence, to a gorgeous single take shot as Steve and Dennis attend to the first victim, of Synchronic they find, the frame is often filled in such a way that feels intimate to our relationship with these characters, as well as abstract from its use of locations and visual effects. Add to that an ethereal and trippy soundtrack from frequent collaborator Jimmy LaValle, and you have a film that is constantly worth keeping up with yet doesn’t entirely nail the landing – a smart concept with a sadly flawed execution.
- COMMENTARY WITH DIRECTORS AND PRODUCER
- MAKING OF
- VFX BREAKDOWN
- DELETED SCENE
- JOKE ALTERNATIVE ENDING
The bonus features included on the disc release of the film are slim but interesting, with the 15 minute making of comprising mostly of press friendly talking head snippets. It’s a shame, given how rich Arrow’s release of The Endless is content wise, but there’s definitely some nuggets in there that will please fans of the directors.