Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions
WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR SYNCHRONIC
This is one of those films that is difficult to review without giving too much away. Synchronic is a film best seen going in cold. Don’t even watch the trailer, just see the movie and then come back to this review.
At first sight, Synchronic appears to be a moody, character-driven piece with some surreal/horrific elements reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead (1999), but this film goes beyond the psychological and into the realm of science fiction. You think you’re getting a trippy drug movie with some nightmarish visuals, but it turns out to be something else entirely.
Synchronic is a new designer drug that has a peculiar effect. It makes the user feel like they’ve traveled back in time. This effect is particularly strong in young people. Steve and Dennis (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) are a couple of New Orleans paramedics charged with treating the victims of Synchronic, most of them afflicted by some strange violence or bizarre accident. Steve and Dennis have to pick up the pieces left in the wake of the new drug that’s killing young people at a rapid rate. We later discover that the drug is not just simulating going back in time but is actually a conduit for time travel. Due to circumstances I won’t spoil here, Steve and Dennis get caught up with the drug which is when the plot takes off.
Anthony Mackie’s character, Steve, is flawed. He drinks too much and has no real relationships outside the one with his best friend/partner Dennis. He feels empty inside and tries to fill the hole in this life with booze and sex. Yes, this is nothing we haven’t seen before, but somehow Mackie manages to carry the movie and elevate the material with his performance.
Mackie has been on a tear as of late. He can be found reprising his role as Sam Wilson in Marvel’s The Falcon & The Winter Soldier on Disney+. Previously he starred in Outside the Wire on Netflix which was, let’s say, less than stellar (see our review here). Mackie gets a bit more to do here and is definitely the driving force. Dornan and Mackie have great chemistry, and we believe their friendship. Dornan does his part in carrying some of the story’s emotional weight, but make no mistake, this is Mackie’s movie. He has charisma to burn, and at this point, he is a bona fide movie star.
Synchronic’s premise is an interesting one, and it’s well executed by the directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. They create a dreamlike atmosphere for the story. Throughout there are visual themes that blur the line between fantasy and reality. The camera drifts and floats freely, and the cinematography has a hazy look to it. We’re constantly walking about in a fog. The story jumps back and forth in time, but despite the disjointed timeline, we are not confused. The direction seems to meander at times with seemingly unmotivated steadicam shots, but the directors do a good job knowing when to lock the camera down and give us a reality check.
To the film’s credit, Synchronic also manages to not get too bogged down in the typical time travel movie cliches and shenanigans. We’re given a set of rules, and for the most part, it sticks to them. There’s sci-fi movie logic involved, but it doesn’t get in the way. Foreshadowing is used well, and plot elements are set up and paid off in a way that doesn’t seem terribly contrived.
The filmmakers also make good use of New Orleans, its culture and history. The story incorporates the city without tipping its hat too far. We don’t see the French Quarter or a Second Line march, and the sound track isn’t New Orleans jazz. Unlike most films shot in Louisiana, which seem to be set there to take advantage of the state’s tax breaks, this story feels like it belongs there.
Samuel Fuller once said to Peter Bogdanovich, “save your money for the end, kid,” and it seems someone has given the same advice to Benson and Moorhead. Synchronic builds to a banger of an ending which makes use of the film’s production budget, and we’re even given some social commentary to go along with it.
Synchronic has its issues. The plot takes a while to kick in, and the social commentary can seem a bit heavy handed. In truth this could have been a Black Mirror episode, but if you enjoy good sci-fi or if you’re an Anthony Mackie fan, you’ll like this movie.