Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are well known for well-executed, high concept films, often of the ‘cosmic horror variety’ such as Resolution, Spring, and The Endless. Recently, the writer-director duo have collaborated for a smart, intriguing time travel film, Synchronic, about a drug that allows consumers temporary time travel (with some frightening implications) and a man’s journey to save his friend’s daughter from those implications at all costs. It’s an excellent, well-told sci-fi tale.
Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are paramedics, friends despite their dramatically different personalities. Dennis is a family man, while Steve is a playboy with no family of his own. They begin to encounter a series of strange cases with people either dying or being found in a bizarre state, the only clear commonality being the presence of a designer drug—something called ‘Synchronic’. One man found stabbed through the chest with a sword. A woman is bitten by a snake in a hotel. The mystery deepens and comes close to home when Dennis’ own daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears following her taking a dose of the mysterious drug. Steve, who has been hiding a terminal medical diagnosis, commits to finding Brianna at all costs as a friend with nothing to lose.
Synchronic is a smart and unusual time travel film, centered not in an elaborate massive machine, quantum shenanigans, or other genre tropes, but rather accomplishes time travel by the use of a pill that, for a limited duration, allows consumers to travel through time through flattening it for the drug’s consumers, rendering it temporarily non-linear in their subjective experience. It’s certainly an interesting concept—if time travel became reduced from high-tech, centralized technologies to affordable, transportable, mass-producible pills, the terrible consequences the film exhibits would be likely. What’s more novel, being unable to control the destination or the duration add a lot of further complications, ones that are well used to set the plot in motion in ways that differ from more standard treatments of time travel. Overall it is a solid concept, one that certainly appeals to fans of science fiction films.
The performances by both Dornan and Mackie are excellent, with Mackie in particular adeptly walking a delicate balance in portraying a man desperately attempting to help a friend in crisis while struggling with the implications of a frightening, reality-bending drug. It’s a complicated performance to pull off, but Mackie excels in the role. This shouldn’t be news to fans of the directors, whose films are often high-concept intellectual feasts with a strong emotional core. (Incidentally, their last film The Endless does involve time travel in a way in the form of ‘looped time’—I won’t spoil anything but it definitely is worth your time).
Synchronic is certainly a labor of love for the filmmakers as well, who (impressively, it should be added) have a hand in many aspects of the film’s production—Benson co-directed, co-produced, wrote, and co-edited the film, while Moorhead co-directed, co-produced (along with