After their debut with 2012’s glorious low-budget mindfuck, Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been producing hit after hit, with their clever genre mashups that always keep the audience on its toes. With every release we can see them hone their craft, but despite their productions (and budgets) growing in size, their voice has never been stifled by studio intervention, and the same can be said for their latest offering, Synchronic, a time-bending thriller that’s their biggest film to date.
Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan play Steve and Dennis, two best friends who work as third-shift EMT workers in New Orleans. As one might expect, their nights are full of strange calls, but after a series of bizarre deaths appear to be linked to a new designer drug called Synchronic, Steve, a man in love with science, begins to think there’s something bigger at play here than a bunch of kids killing themselves while hopped up on the latest synthetic drug fad.
Benson and Moorhead’s previous films all carried traces of Lovecraftian horror, and Synchronic is no exception, seemingly drawing some inspiration from Lovecraft’s short story “From Beyond,” in which a scientist discovers the pineal gland in the brain is the key to opening doors to other planes of existence.
In typical Benson and Moorhead fashion, though, Synchronic isn’t a straight-forward, sci-fi thriller and opts instead to become a melting pot of genres, seamlessly blending drama, science-fiction and thriller elements into a lovingly crafted film that ultimately focuses on human connection and the things that bring us together.
Just like their previous features, Moorhead again serves as the cinematographer, bringing both chaos and beauty to the screen; in one moment delivering a suspenseful one-take sequence of a 911 call that our protagonists are responding to and, in the next, presenting a wondrous time shift, melding time lines in a visually arresting fashion.
Despite the logical impossibility, it’s a unique spin on the time-travel conceit, unbeholden to standard movie rules imposed on the subject, where altering the past changes the future. Giving any more details would be me divulging too much, but it’s a tremendously rewarding experience.
Dornan does a serviceable job portraying a friend, a grief-stricken father and a struggling husband, but Mackie is given most of the spotlight here as a man confronted with a dire prognosis who is trying to hold those he cares about close and is reflecting on what our meager existence means in the grand scheme of things. He excels in the role, which may be one of his best to date.
Synchronic is a tricky movie to decompress without giving too much away, much like every other Benson and Moorhead film, but also like the others, this team has once again brought us a unique experience that’s hard to forget and begs us to rewatch it, unpacking every little morsel of meaning behind each scene.