Synchronic is helmed by directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose previous effort The Endless put them on the map. It was well-received by critics, and it was especially impressive considering how the pair also starred in their film. Synchronic has a bigger budget than The Endless, and big stars at the centre of it, with the likes of Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan, but it fails to deliver the kind of impact its predecessor had in spades.
Mackie and Dornan play paramedics Dennis and Steve, and during their shifts, discover some lethal episodes induced by a new designer drug, though it’s less overdose, and more along the likes of a sword in the chest kind of thing. While they aren’t exactly sure how ingesting the drugs leads to a woman getting bitten by a snake, or another woman burning to a crisp with no fire source around her, we the audience are privy to these trippy episodes, and later learn that it actually induces time travel.
It is a bit hyperbolic that every trip to the past seems to end badly, or be disastrous in some way or form, but like Steve says, the past sucks, so I guess we’ll just roll with it. There is a point to be made here, about how we humans tend to romanticise the past, when the reality is the furthest thing from the picture we painted in our heads, but these trips to the past are never meaningful, just safety hazards.
The visuals of these transitions are sometimes gripping, other times it becomes clear that they were working on a limited budget, with the setting crafted so inauthentic and simply not immersive. Jimmy LaValle’s original score induces tension and dread, but because the film doesn’t carry through on what the soundscape promises, I’m not exactly sure what I’m holding my breath for.
Mackie, who is usually an expert when it comes to the art of bromance, as all us Captain America fans would know, fails to conjure anything here in his interactions with Dornan. Dennis and Steve have been friends for years, but the script doesn’t give them the opportunity to showcase this friendship. They each envy the other’s life, and that’s about it.
Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears while doing the drug, and so Steve takes it upon himself to experiment with the drug, to try and retrieve her from the past. Steve has been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor that affects his pineal gland, and somehow, this makes him more receptive to the drug, being able to better handle himself than others individuals who possess an unaffected pineal gland.
While it is science fiction, and there doesn’t really need to be explanation of how the drug is actually able to do what it does, what Synchronic does need is some semblance of characterisation, and a key message of what it is trying to say. The film is also so devoid of stakes that we are never really worried about Brianna, which really shouldn’t be the case.
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While the psychedelic visuals of Synchronic build a compelling film space, the script is just too flimsy for any substance to take hold.
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