Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a distinct approach to their films. They’re grounded until the turn, where the story quickly becomes a surreal experience. Spring or The Endless are perfect examples. Personally, Spring is my favorite of their films. Their latest tale Synchronic follows two seasoned paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). They’ve seen it all, but the latest string of calls has the pair responding to bizarre causes of death. The common thread is the designer drug Synchronic, which allows users to travel through time. Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing after taking synchronic. Diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, Steve finds himself uniquely qualified to look for Brianna, but that also means experimenting with the drug himself.
The story is interesting, and the premise is well thought out – check out the commentary to find out how much thought went into this concept of time travel – but the execution leaves much to be desired. There’s an air of pretentiousness throughout. Synchronic is a little like Neil Burger’s Limitless on acid with the pacing and heady-ness of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. For the most part, I felt indifferent towards the movie, but Benson and Moorhead’s approach to time travel and the themes of this movie are a strong and fascinating combination. They’ve also constructed a movie with stunning visuals and transitions for sci-fi fans.
Synchronic starts with a mesmerizing opener that the movie never quite tops. The visuals are out of this world and the effects of the two realties merging is really something else, whether it’s an old lady phasing through a wall or the terrifying-yet-peaceful plummet into the desert, everything is executed perfectly. It’s reminiscent of the slo-mo sequences in Pete Travis and Alex Garland’s Dredd. I would love to see this movie in 3D because the visuals could really take advantage of the format.
The sequence is even more immersive thanks to Jimmy LaValle’s score, which is every bit as hypnotic as the visuals. It feels like a cross between Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s work in Blade Runner 2049. The continuous droning sounds mixed with angelic vocals are both haunting and meditative. The high pitch tones sound like someone playing crystal stemware, which has a shimmering or flickering effect much like the images people see while on the designer drug. LaValle’s “Always” nails the tone of this movie.
However, after the title card, it’s time to settle in for a slow-going movie experience. Scenes without much to look at are overly long, and it’s not until about halfway that the movie finds its stride and becomes more accessible. Mackie’s performance is subtle throughout, but once he investigates how the drug works he becomes much more charismatic and the movie is injected with a much-needed boost of energy. Synchronic never felt like two different movies at war with each other, but the tonal shift from drama to science fiction happens midway that makes the movie a much more enjoyable watch.
In addition to the slow pace, supporting characters often steal the scenes they’re in, such as the ambulance driver Tom, the snake wrangler, the cashier at the vape shop or even Dr. Kermani (Ramiz Monsef), the creator of the drug.
If the movie has you feeling down, then check out the alternate ending to lift your spirits. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll tell you that you learn who carved “All Ways” into the rock.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The Big Comic Page was provided a preview copy of the film, and this disc is packed with bonus features. Again, the commentary really shows how much thought went into this movie, although some of the ideas the directors were going for don’t reallty register as well as they had hoped. For example, they talk about the choice Steve makes to take the drug. They wanted it to feel earned. They wanted him to make a conscious decision to take it, but he comes off as reckless more than anything, taking the drug with a swig of hard alcohol.
Given how much attention was clearly spent on this movie, it’s no surprise the directors spent a lot of time crafting the shots and how they would appear on screen, which is revealed via the previsualization and VFX breakdown section of the disc.
A deleted scene between Steve and his doctor shows Steve wanting to stop his treatment as a means to continue looking for Brianna. There’s a touch humor here which the movie would benefit from but Steve’s explanation to Dennis is much more effective.
The making of is a fun series of interviews with the cast and crew and their experience making the film as well as whether or not they would personally take Synchronic.
Synchronic is available on Digital now, and the Blu-Ray and DVD will be available January 26, 2020.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511