“The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
The above quote from Albert Einstein pops up at the mid point in the stunning Synchronic directed by the brilliant Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Anyone accustomed to the previous work of this hugely talented duo who made Spring, The Endless and are currently working on Marvel’s latest TV series Moon Knight, will be aware that themes of time and illusion are major factors in their work but never how you might think.
Scripted by Justin Benson with cinematography by Aaron Moorhead, Synchronic blends mind bending visuals with a stunning story line that skips genres from Sci-Fi to horror to drama in a tale of two paramedics working in New Orleans who come across a series of extremely strange and serious casualties that are somehow linked to a new designer drugs.
Starting out attending to a gapping sword wound, then a case of spontaneous combustion and finally a near fatal snake bite from a species unknown in the area Steve (The Avengers and Falcon and Winter Soldier star Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan from The Fall and Fifty Shades of Grey franchise) take it all in their stride but are troubled that the victims seem to all be teenagers who have taken a pill named Synchronic before experiencing something far more frightening than a bad trip.
Life catches up with the friends when Steve discovers he has a terminal brain tumour but can’t bring himself to tell his partner opting instead to mask his painful illness and treatment with tales of late nights drinking and sleeping around. Steve’s own world comes crashing down too when the pair are called to another drug addled incident and he learns his 18 year old daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) was at the party and has gone missing.
Having bought up all the stock of Synchronic from a smoke shop in an attempt to prevent any more kids overdosing Steve is suddenly confronted by a frantic doctor who claims he invented the pill and knows its true power. With nothing to lose Steve decides to embrace the doctors insane claims and use his remaining time on Earth trying to find out what happened to his best friends child.
With its ominous atmosphere and rich visuals Synchronic gets under your skin from the start helped along by the excellent performances of its main stars. Setting up a solid and believable dynamic the medical men are best friends even though they seem to lead opposing lives. As Dennis, Jamie Dornan is beset by doubt over his seemingly stable relationship that sees him with a teenage daughter and a new born. Constantly complaining about his conventional life he is jealous of his friend only realising what he truly has when it is cruelly taken from him.
Anthony Mackie is sensational as Steve who runs the gamut of emotions during the movie as he confronts his mortality head on and learns how important living in the present can be. Able to experience the time traveling effects of Synchronic like a much younger person due to his abnormal pineal gland he goes about experimenting with his stash to uncover what happened to Brianna, taking multiple trips to different points in the past and documenting the trials in case he never comes back.
It is here Synchronic plays its ace treating time travel in way rarely seen in film or TV and giving the movie a unique and thought provoking element that elevates it above many other movies. Unlike the frivolous fun filled romps featured in films like Bill and Ted and Back to the Future the past is portrayed here as a brutal and violent place where anyone visiting is instantly attacked by the people or creatures they encounter.
In many ways this is a far more realistic concept not only because the visitors appear like ghosts or unholy spirits to the locals they come across but also because most of human history is filled with pain, suffering and struggle. From the harsh environments of prehistoric man to the racist backwaters of the deep South to the blood soaked battlefields of various wars so many moments in our relatively brief time as the ruling species of this planet have been horrifying especially for anyone that isn’t a white skinned heterosexual man.
Synchronic’s message is pure and simple, that we must appreciate the time we have, however it is never preachy and although Steve’s journeys are played straight for maximum tension and terror his reactions to them once he returns to the present are often hilarious.
Witty and clever but never pretentious or sanctimonious Synchronic takes the audience on an unbelievable journey that balances relatable and emotional drama with surreal scientific exploration all the while keeping things entertaining and original along the way.
Beautifully shot and immensely engaging Benson and Moorhead have more than proved themselves as shining talents who deserve a wider audience to experience their wonderful work and let’s hope that happens soon.
Signature Entertainment presents Synchronic on Digital Platforms 29th March and Blu-Ray & DVD 5th April