Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead blew me away with the debut film Resolution, an eerie tale marked by a foreboding sense of doom. Their follow-up film, Spring, I will admit being indifferent towards, despite the critical appraise it got. Their next feature, The Endless, I did not get a chance to see (something I will correct in the coming weeks). Regardless of my own mixed history with their filmography, I found myself excited about their newest film and decided to jump in. With my opinion being that Resolution is their best work, how would their biggest production to date compare?
WHAT IS IT?
Two New Orleans paramedics’ lives become tied to a new synthetic drug that is resulting in unexplainable deaths. When one of the paramedic’s child goes missing after taking the drug known as ‘Synchronic’, his partner begins an investigation into its uses and origins. As a result, he learns that the drug stimulates a certain area of the brain that teleports the user through time. On this revelation, he begins to explore the drug through self experimentation in a bid to save his friends daughter from being stuck in the past.
WHAT DID I LIKE ABOUT THE FILM?
Putting any elements of horror/sci-fi behind, Benson and Moorehead have proven ability to write engaging characters that evoke a sense of empathy from its viewers. In this regard, Synchronic further establishes the duo’s ability to craft these archetypes that are easy to get drawn into. Flawed but determined, practical yet with a deep sense of morality and willingness to sacrifice their own happiness for the greater good, it is really easy to fall in love with the complex personas that the duo scripts.
The production boasts a great technical production, with some beautiful cinematography and a complimentary score. Simply put, the film is gorgeous to watch as the camera flows effortlessly capturing the urban decay and bright night landscape of New Orleans. This does extend, to a lesser degree, into elements of time travel. While the transitions through time can be are awkward due to subpar CGI, once the awkward blurring effect melts away the film showcases to Aron Moorehead’s ingenuity as a cinematographer. Ultimately, there is a certain grounded beauty to his stylistic approach that keeps the narrative realistic and personable throughout.
Finally, the performances from Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan prove they were the perfectly cast for the troubled ambulance workers. Their friendship and hardships feel sincere and despite having a different outlook and life experiences than the two I found myself becoming deeply invested in their plight.
It should also be noted that the film being billed as horror/science-fiction may be misleading to some. The duo obviously use those genres as inspiration, but I personally don’t see those elements as defining their strengths or the driving reason I have come to be interested in their work. However, this does give the film a nice leg up on movie nights, particularly with a partner who is not overly fond of horror. Ultimately, the film is a character driven drama injected with some neat elements of horror and sci-fi, making for pretty easy/light viewing.
WHAT DIDN’T I LIKE ABOUT THE FILM?
Synchronic often strikes me as a movie of narrative convenience that can betray the attempt of surrealism. Perhaps nitpicking, but every encounter with the past puts put the drug user in direct conflict with someone of that time period. Given the randomness of the drug in placing of area and timeline, the chance that every trip will lead to encountering humanity is highly improbable. In addition, the status of the drug only effecting youth with the exception of the protagonist, due to a terminal medical condition, feels really contrived. A fact proven in a rather predictable ending that the astute viewer will see coming far in advance. Ultimately, productions that are focused on sci-fi surrealism should not come with predictable endings when presenting itself as an abstract mystery.
Sadly, the elements of science fiction and horror are easily the weakest element of this production, with the interactions in time travel also just limited to some primitive idiot running at its target. There is also an attempt to put in some social commentary with the difficulties of the protagonists skin color in navigating through certain points in time. However, this seems ham-fisted and more of an afterthought, failing to make a statement.
Overall, the production is riddled with these little moments that make the abstract concept all the less believable. I have always been of the general opinion to accept the reality given in films and not to nitpick, but with the way the film is presented it is difficult not too.
Synchronic feels like it is a film that bit off more than it can chew and stumbles with certain themes and elements of the production. However, the strong dialogue, great atmosphere and beautiful cinematography still make the film a highly enjoyable experience. My general take away, is that Synchronic is a step into the next big thing that could make the duo a household name, despite most advertising saying this project will do just that.
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