We know full well that our brains lie to us. The mind makes such quick assumptions that it is relatively easy to design optical illusions that mess up our perception of reality. Synchronic, the new movie from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Resolution (2012), The Endless (2017)) asks the question: what if designer drugs could hack the mind still further?
This is clearly a theme for Benson and Moorhead. The Endless delighted in twisting expectations of reality and Synchronic continues in that vein, supplanting ‘cult’ for ‘drugs’ and mixing in a large dash of Philip K. Dick’s A Skanner Darkly.
The result is very much a movie of two halves, where mystery and intrigue get pushed aside for emotive practicality almost bang on the middle mark.
What Is Synchronic About?
Steve (Anthony Mackie, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are paramedics working the New Orleans circuit as more and more violent injuries are reported around young people seeking a good time.
When Brianna (Dennis’ teenage daughter) goes missing one night, the only clue Steve has to go on is an empty synchronic drug packet.
I wasn’t putting it lightly when I said this is a movie of two halves. Smeared transitions between scenes and quick time jump edits drive home a general sense of disorientation in the first 40 minutes.
Users of synchronic quickly become confused. They experience visions of encroaching jungle within a hotel room, or elevator doors opening out into a desert. But when Steve and Dennis arrive at the scene, they are faced with very real snake bites and the result of a fall from impossibly high.
Mackie, as a directionless ladies man who finds himself on the receiving end of some very bad news, leads the movie well and just about manages to anchor our throughline whilst Benson and Moorhead chop between scenes. As he and Dornan make their way from one bizarre injury to the next, all sense of time is deliberately stripped away.
Yet as soon as Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing, the editing snaps back to sharp reality. Steve’s search techniques, and carefully controlled use of synchronic, is highly methodical. Don’t argue with the logic (or lack thereof) of his results though. The movie expects you to go with him and just accept the rules as they are spelt out to you.
Synchronic Official Trailer
Is Synchronic Worth Watching?
All in all, such an approach makes describing Synchronic like trying to squeeze silly putty in your hands. Whilst it would have certainly been a chore to keep up the stylistically unstable approach of the first half for the whole run time, ditching it entirely for a fun-but-very-matter-of-fact second half makes for a misshapen viewing experience.
Dornan’s character flits in and out like smoke clinging to the walls, with the film-makers showing him little interest beyond laying a necessary foundation for the plot.
That his missing daughter is skewed more as a marriage breaker than a parental disaster robs him of much to do beyond mope around bars and doorways.
The best viewing experience is to take the opening half as an overly extended introductive mood piece. Once all the pieces have been dreamily settled into place then Mackie is able to firmly grasp the camera and dictate where we go from there.
The ticking clock on finding Brianna adds enough dramatic impetus, and a rather signposted emotional resolution is none the less effective for its inevitability, which is a testament to Mackie’s ability to draw your empathy for his character.
Synchronic is a swirl of a good ideas that kept the visuals and the plot in two entirely separate boxes.
As a result, it isn’t as striking as The Endless,, but it nevertheless sobers up in the dying moments to give you a sombre send off that will linger in the memory long after the journey to get there has faded away.
Words by Mike Record