You’ll Want to Take Another Hit of Synchronic (2020) After You Finish Watching
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
First Wide Release: October 23, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Best friends and paramedics, Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), respond to a series of increasingly brutal accidents that claim the lives of those experimenting with a new party drug. Once Dennis’s daughter goes missing and is assumed to be the drug’s latest victim, Steve makes it his mission to find her as he copes with the reality of a recent medical prognosis. As Steve investigates the seedy origins of the designer drug, he stumbles down a rabbit hole into a world of new possibilities, both fantastic and macabre.
A vibrant and bold vision in sci-fi horror, Synchronic dazzles with its unique story and compelling character work.
From the get-go, we know that Synchronic is going to be something special. It opens to a strange scene of a young couple popping a seemingly benign pill before reality warps around them. Not long after the strangeness ensues are the duo come down, only they don’t return the same. Responding to these odd calls, Steve and Dennis aren’t sure what to make of the scene. Is it merely the delusion of low-level drug users taking something they shouldn’t or is it something much more mystifying?
The first half of the feature is primarily dedicated to world building, allowing the audience to discover the nature of the drug Synchronic and its effects. It’s got a weird pace to it. Each act feels distinctly different which makes each of them feel a little patched together. The first act is more crime procedural oriented, the second is dedicated primarily to the experimental process, and the final act is a mash up of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. It’s neat but I’m not sure if it mixes right. Regardless, it seems directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are concerned with creating an experience that will unsettle the audience through visuals just as much as it captivates through storytelling.
And does Synchronic sure captivate. Easily one of the most beautifully filmed horror films of 2020, Benson and Moorhead juxtapose beautiful landscapes and settings with gripping terror, as the consequences of getting lost in the new world the characters find are supremely deadly if they don’t know the rules. Which is exactly what happens with Brianna (Ally Ioannides). After taking the drug she disappears, which has devastating effects on Dennis’s already fractured marriage. Steve takes it upon himself to help out his friend and save her.
This is where Synchronic gets a bit wonky, in the best and worst of ways. Some familiar conventions set up the structure of the second act as Steve experiments with the drug to learn more about its effects. The trial by error sequence along with the inevitable limited opportunities to save Brianna feel a bit familiar and the logic of the drug’s effects, particularly the return, gets a bit convoluted as well. It does, however, create tension and move the plot along nicely so it’s easy to forgive.
Mackie’s performance of Steve anchors the film in sentimentality. Steve is put through the ringer in Synchronic between his diagnosis and mission to get rid of the street drug. Mackie navigates Steve’s hero arch by balancing the dramatic and comedic elements of his situation with finesse. His character is haunted by the way his life turned out: sleeping with different women every night, taking Morphine to numb the pain from his condition, and having nothing to really show for his time on Earth. He finds purpose in doing something good for someone he cares for deeply. This takes what could have been a shallow film about the dangers of drug use and makes it something more timeless. When faced with mortality and uncertainty, what will you do with whatever remaining time you have left? The ending encapsulates this theme perfectly.
Synchronic may fully not live up to the great promise of its premise’s potential, but it delivers a hard-to-forget experience that will be difficult for other filmmakers to emulate. Benson and Moorhead are some of my favorite directors right now, mainly due to their imagination and willingness to create films that others will not. Synchronic is another great addition to their already fantastic filmography. Fans of the duo will not be disappointed in their fourth effort and will likely clamor for more. I know I’m already feeling the itch. For fans of offbeat and entertaining sci-fi horror need to look no further than Synchronic to deliver its potent dose of hypnotic terror.
Overall Score? 7/10