Initially premiering at Toronto International Film Festival back in 2019, thinky sci-fi Synchronic is the fourth (and most accessible) instalment from acclaimed Indie auteurs Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. Initially playing out as a drug-fuelled horror positioned as a cautionary addiction tale, Synchronic slowly unravels with a trippy time travel twist. Ambitious with bold and often bonkers ideas, the film offers an emotional and surprisingly human spin on the genre.
Best friends Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) spend their evenings working the tough night shift as New Orleans paramedics. The duo’s lives are soon turned upside down when they’re called to a number of horrifically gruesome accidents which are linked to a new psychedelic designer drug coined ‘Synchronic’. When Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears after potentially taking the drug, Steve seeks to uncover the truth behind Synchronic, leading him on a reality-shattering and time-bending odyssey.
Opening as a dark and often graphic horror-esque tale, Moorhead and Benson quickly establish an intriguing twist to the well-trodden drug-fueled narrative. Peculiar historical artifacts such as a corroded sword and an ancient coin are littered throughout the crime scenes, along with a rare snake bite noted on one victim. When one incident results in a missing-person case linked directly to the paramedics, Steve recklessly buys up the rest of the drug supply to test and record the mind bending effects via an entertaining and compelling video diary. It’s here where the narrative shifts and the film’s real genre is unfurled, as the time travelling concept and subsequent ‘rules’ are explored.
This fascinating and unpredictable journey into various eras completely throws the linear nature of time out the window, and it’s certainly the most compelling and visually interesting sequence exploring one of the film’s key concepts. Unfortunately the directors only really scratch the surface of this concept (whether that’s due to the film’s budget) but what follows is vastly different in tone with a disappointingly grounded approach, as Benson and Moorhead bizarrely psychoanalyse the two lead’s differing lives. Mackie’s Steve constantly drinks and sleeps around, but secretly craves love and a family, while Dornan’s domestic Dennis feels trapped by his family – it’s a bit of a disappointing swerve in the narrative, particularly as it’s framed as high concept sci-fi.
Despite the slow pacing and ‘mood’ of their soul searching, Anthony Mackie manages to carry the latter half of the film with his usual breezy charisma and likeability. His genuine connection with Brianna is another highlight, along with his brotherly bromance with Dornan’s Dennis. The 50 Shades lead (with a somewhat questionable accent) is somewhat less likeable however, due to Steve proving the main person to step up in the search for Brianna. However the most disappointing aspect is the short screen time afforded to the female characters, who undeservedly feel a bit of an afterthought to the exploration of the main leads.
With an intriguing central mystery and a curious twist on time travel, Synchronic makes for one trippy sci-fi journey. It’s just a shame Moorhead and Ben didn’t delve further into this concept, particularly with Mackie’s excellent reactions to exploring the drug’s transformative effects.