by Jordan King
Bringing to the table once again their now-signature style of video store sci-fi, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s latest feature, Synchronic, is a time travel brain teaser with a tight concept and a whole lot of heart.
Running with a bigger budget than than their previous DIY outings, Synchronic sees Benson and Moorhead centre their efforts on a story that revolves around a new designer drug, the titular Synchronic. Capable of sending users back in time for seven minutes before returning them to where they started, the drug is found at the scene of several grisly deaths by EMT co-workers and best friends Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). When the drug leads to the disappearance of Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides), Steve – who has just been given a devastating diagnosis – decides to see how deep the rabbit hole goes and use Synchronic to try and find his friend’s kid.
Though the directors have given over acting duties to big name stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan here, the sense of two huge genre fans conjuring up ideas and figuring out new and dazzling ways to get them onto the screen is not lost for a second. Benson and Moorhead’s foundational understanding of indie filmmaking’s spirit and the sci-fi genre’s rhythm and well-worn grooves creates a canvas on which both Mackie and Dornan seem to come alive in a way rarely seen quite as potently before.
During a scene filled with long, slow takes in which Steve and Dennis walk down an empty street discussing the essential nature of life and death, Mackie’s cool worldliness and Dornan’s soft-edged machismo convalesce to create a touching snapshot of a friendship that will see one of the duo make a huge sacrifice for the other. That both affect humour, heartache, stoicism, and ultimately humanity with such a relaxed demeanour throughout the film is a great testament to how the directors coax their stars out of blockbuster franchise mental approaches and into intimate, independent shooting that luxuriates in nuance and subtlety.
Tackling themes of mortality, racial injustice, addiction, existential dread, and the fabric of time as we know it, Moorhead and Benson could be forgiven for seeming to have bitten off more than they can reasonably be expected to chew here. That being said however, with Benson’s polished writing, accomplished central performances, and a visual style that sees Moorhead’s flair for fluid camerawork and the directing duo’s editing credentials on full display, none of the film’s many spinning plates ever feel set to smash at any point during its pretty much perfectly timed 100 minute duration.
Synchronic starts out with a simple conceit, the likes of which we’ve seen similarly in films such as cult classic Brain Damage and Bradley Cooper star vehicle Limitless more recently, but thanks to a double-headed duo of hardcore sci-fi nerds at the helm, the end result is something that, handily enough given the subject matter, feels timeless.
Come to Synchronic for a slickly shot and stylish time travel trip from two of the indie circuit’s brightest young stars, stay for a masterclass in economic filmmaking and genre ingenuity that has more than a whiff of Annihilation and more than a passing air of Black Mirror-esque near future realism going for it. Synchronic is an effortlessly satisfying cinematic experience that comes very highly recommended.
Synchronic is out digital (premium video on demand) January 29th.