Synchronic review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have done an astounding job with mind-bending sci-fi on a budget as with their unique found-footage picture Resolution and their major twist of cult picture The Endless. It is for this reason why Synchronic is a mild disappointment in that it never feels as bound by that same energy. That being said, it still has all the wild and creative ideas the directors have for playing with the concept of time amid personal struggles.
The story concerns a mysterious drug going by the name Synchronic. Those who take the pill with the mysterious insignia will experience not just an out-of-body experience but an out-of-time trip as well. A trip that will turn deadly. Tracking this development are New Orleans paramedics Dennis Dannelly (Jamie Dornan) and Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie). They can’t quite explain the odd manner in which they discover victims with either unorthodox fatal injuries or uncommon broken limbs. But when the two discover that Dennis’s teenage daughter may have dealt in this stuff amid her disappearance, the investigation will need to speed up.
For Steve, his time is running out. He discovers a tumor that is terminal and realizes his life may be over soon. Trying to find out what’s going on with Synchronic, he takes the drug himself and makes a miraculous discovery. The pills can temporarily transport someone back to a random point in time. He begins a series of experiments to better determine the rules of where you travel, what you can bring back, and what stays in the past. While he continues to document and lose hope, Dennis’s relationship with his wife strains further, fearing the worst for his marriage.
Synchronic spends a bit too much time trying to explain the mechanics of the drug. At first, it’s explained by a scientist who gives the explanation for how the drug makes our mind witness time differently. My initial perception at this point was that the victims of the drug were merely hallucinating moments of the past and unexpectedly stumbling into death but that mystery would be too easily solved. It seems far more intriguing when the victims didn’t just mindlessly stumble into suicide but were attacked by extinct snakes and inexplicably burst into flames. The rules of the time-travel drug are still fairly loose where even Steve can’t plan out everything exactly, leading to some disastrous consequences.
The mood of this film is perfectly suited to be dark and brooding with a looming synth soundtrack and sinister fears bubbling up within the characters. Steve feels believable thru Mackie’s performance as a man frustrated with how little he can accomplish yet still blunt enough to admit during his film trials that time-travel sucks. I also appreciated how Dannis’s marital problems felt more real for the distancing growing slowly rather than just a montage of leaving rooms with glares.
The special effects are rendered rather simply though given much thought in their placement. On Steve’s first travel through time, he watches as his living room slowly morphs into a swamp, the couch unexpectedly dropping beneath his feet as it fades out of view. The travels through time jump all around the place as well, from the racist 20th century to the brutal Civil War. Some of it’s a bit too simplistic, as when he initially ventures to the prehistoric era to share a fire with a neanderthal, but the range of times covered is quite remarkable.
Synchronic plays around with its concept enough, yet never loses sight of the characters as well. It leads to some fine performances and a stirring sci-fi tale with a detective bent. It never overwhelms and yet still feels a tad too commercial given the directors and their ability to be craft strong stories on small budgets with no big names. It is still pleasing, however, that a lot of the more intriguing ideas remain even with a higher budget and more notable actors.