Before you dive into 2019’s Synchronic, there’s one thing you need to know.
Not that it’s a low-budget sci-fi movie with an intriguing premise. Not that it stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as best friends. Not that its directors directed a couple of episodes of Marvel’s.
It’s that Synchronic will really annoy you with its plot holes and inconsistencies and pointless time travel mechanics that spin around in your head until a miraculous counterplot rises out of the mist and convinces you that it all makes sense after all. .
Surprisingly, this is a recommendation to watch Synchronic. A frustrating, divisive, dark indie gem with flashes of brilliance. It’s another showcase of the exciting talents of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (check out 2017’s The Endless for a twist of twisted horror). Just lean into the rage that Synchronic inspires and eventually you’ll have a rewarding experience on the other hand.
Mackie and Dornan play Steve and Dennis, two extraordinarily laid-back paramedics working in New Orleans. They are called in to treat a series of people who tell incoherent stories after taking a drug called Synchronic.
Steve and Dennis investigate the drug’s origins and impossible time travel capabilities, while also dealing with their personal lives falling apart. Steve is a jaded womanizer and Dennis is stuck in a dysfunctional marriage.
The best parts of Synchronic involve the actual sci-fi element itself. the discovery. Steve and Dennis walk down a dark road in the middle of the night, chatting about their normal lives, until they enter a house and discover a shocking scene straight out of a horror movie, where someone has been stabbed and a medieval sword inexplicably sticks out. of a wall
Thanks to a couple of plot devices, Steve eventually takes the drug himself. This is where Synchronic gets exciting in an impressively visceral way.
Starting from its low-key grounding point, the film sends Steve and us into the terrifying and unknown. The threat of sudden and violent death looms over everything, because in this time travel story, Steve is a black man, and returning to certain places carries an entirely different layer of danger.
The mechanics of how the time travel drug works are convincingly revealed as Steve conducts experiments. An analogy involving a record player is worth the appearance of a single character. At one point, directors Benson and Moorhead shake things up by giving us Steve’s first-person perspective, putting us right in the driver’s seat to experience what emerges from the tense and unpredictable darkness of the next location.
Other aspects of the drug, including a minor stretch following who is behind its creation, fade away. Also, while effective in some respects, the overall sense of realism can expose just how ridiculous the drug’s capabilities are.
Still, Steve’s witty, clever direction and dry sense of humor delivered with Mackie’s deadpan swagger shine above Synchronic’s obvious rougher edges. The story is far from perfect, as it ties into the barely developed emotional core, involving Steve, Dennis, and Dennis’s daughter, Brianna. (A horrible scene involving Steve’s dog is an example of poor decision-making or an intentional tugging on our emotional strings.)
Synchronic’s bittersweet ending is frustrating but doesn’t lessen the impact of its most important parts. Hopefully the movie will lead you to see the other Benson and Moorhead movies, four of which are part of a connected universe (some connections are stronger than others).
Synchronic is streaming on Netflix now. It can be slow, with occasionally iffy dialogue and an ending that will make you lose control. You need maximum attention when watching movies to absorb the subtle details that explain what is happening. And yet it is still up to interpretation whether absolutely everything makes sense. Take the decisive step? Decide for yourself.
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