Synchronic [Review]

When Toronto issued it’s second official stay-at-home order due to COVID, I took it with a grain of salt and decided to use the time to catch up on all the films and filmmakers that I’ve been neglecting. Since the outside world is a frozen wasteland anyway, most of my days and nights over the past few weeks have been spent curled up on my couch or in my bed watching movies. While searching for films to cross off my watchlist, I stumbled upon a little independent movie called Spring, and in turn, a pair of filmmakers named Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. I knew I was doomed to be a fan of theirs from the first few minutes of Spring, and so when I received a screener for their latest film Synchronic, I figured it was the perfect excuse to dive down the Benson & Moorhead rabbit hole. 

Synchronic follows Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie, Avengers: Infinity War) and Dennis Dannelly (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey), two New Orleans paramedics who find themselves at the centre of a series of bizarre overdoses caused by a new synthetic drug known as Synchronic. Through his own investigations, Steve discovers that Synchronic transports the user to various periods throughout time, depending on where you are when you take it. It’s a bit more complex than that, but I’ll keep it simple for now. 

It’s a concept that’s as intriguing as they come, but a part of me felt as though it was too ambitious for Benson and Moorhead to tackle. Granted, I haven’t been overly familiar with their work until now so maybe Synchronic was intended for those that have followed them throughout the years and have seen their work progress, but what I loved about Spring was the subtlety of it’s premise. Spring is about a man who falls in love with a 2000-year old woman, who defies everything we know about evolution by shedding her cells every 20 years to achieve immortality. It might sound complex on paper, but at the front and centre of its narrative is a simple love story. In Synchronic, the science and world-building is a main focal point. Or at least, it tries to be. In the end, it feels as though there’s a lot more that could have been explored. 

In truth, I really enjoyed this movie. Both Dornan and Mackie give great performances, but it’s Mackie that’s the true star of the show, with the movie deciding to focus primarily on his character Steve. Having recently discovered that he has an incurable brain tumor, Steve begins experimenting with Synchronic, hoping to find a way to bring back Dennis’ daughter Brianna, who went missing while using the drug. I’ve noticed that loss is a central theme in Benson and Moorhead’s films, with the main characters in both Spring and Synchronic being characters who have lost everything, and finding themselves with nothing left to lose. You really feel for Steve, and it helps that Mackie gives such a layered performance.

Synchronic is a film that I could definitely see myself revisiting some day. Even though it’s concept should have been given more room to grow, Synchronic still features some gorgeously trippy visuals, solid performances, and has officially cemented Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson as two directors for me to watch out for.