Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are a talented team of filmmakers who have yet to disappoint. They burst onto the scene with Resolution in 2012, followed by Spring and fan-favorite The Endless. Their latest film, Synchronic, works on a grand scale to unpack themes of presence, family, and loss, set against the backdrop of a sci-fi thriller.
Starring Jamie Dornan (The Fall, 50 Shades of Grey) and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), Synchronic follows a paramedic team in New Orleans who are called to a series of scenes with bizarre and violent deaths. At each site, they find a mysterious new synthetic designer drug with otherworldly effects that could – somehow – be responsible.
Anchored by a genuine and heartfelt performance by Mackie, Synchronic is an exploration of humanity projected through a cosmic lens. Mackie perfectly balances his role with humor and grace, continually breaking your heart with his sincerity. The brotherhood between Steve (Mackie) and Dennis (Dornan) ties the whole film together, circulating around all the heavily loaded conversations they actively avoid.
The film meditates on how we interact with each present moment; how do we treat our relationships with friends and family, and how do we use the gift of time that we have. As thrilling and engaging as Synchronic is, it’s incredibly heartfelt; it’s a broad story with a very centered focus.
Settingthe film in New Orleans allows us to explore locations that are rich in history. We venture into some underseen spaces — like an abandoned Six Flags — that add to the mystical energy of the film. As paramedics, Dennis and Steve often navigate dangerous situations that are enriched by the crumbling cityscape.
The decision to cast our two main characters as paramedics is a wise one; they have just enough power to realize something is horribly wrong, but no authority to actually stop it. They’re thrust in the middle of this epic mystery, but there’s a degree of distance that keeps them from being officially responsible. Steve decides to act not because it’s his duty, but because he genuinely doesn’t want to see anyone else get hurt. Throughout the film and in many ways, he works to save others from pain. It’s that sense of humanity that helps to tether the film to the real world when the story really takes off.
This sense of realistic humanity is exemplified by the use of long takes, which Benson and Moorhead utilize to striking effect. One particular scene is beautifully and meticulously choreographed to carry the audience through the pressure of a paramedic’s call. The duo make full use of the budget they have, creating intensive scenes with expansive sets that allow the scope of the story to flex and grow
What starts as a horror mystery – we don’t know what is causing these unexplainable deaths – expands into a thrilling and boundless quest. The unknown potential of a designer drug opens up a whole world of narrative possibilities.
I don’t want to dig too deep into the plot, because I firmly believe that this is a film in which it’s best to go in as blind as possible. There’s a certain joy in the films of Benson and Moorhead that comes from the gradual discovery of the story; the journey leading to a mysterious destination. Just sit back and let the film take hold of you; Synchronic won’t give you a bad trip.
For more on Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, you can read our interview on The Endless here.