Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s Synchronic celebrated its US premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019 simultaneously shattering reality and presenting a world that honors some of our darkest truths. If you’re planning to skim read this article, doing your best to avoid any key plot details because you just want to know whether or not Synchronic is as complex and fascinating as Benson & Moorehead’s previous films- you’ve come to the right place. I knew so little about this film going in, and I want to try and preserve that here for you as best I can. If you’re two sentences away from leaving this review altogether, just know that I plan to spend the next few hundred being as vague as possible, without sounding like I’m throwing every compliment I can think of at the movie. Synchronic is the easily one of the most interesting dark sci-fi movies I’ve seen since The Endless, and will likely remain that way until these two release another film.
If you’ve never attended Fantastic Fest, you may not know that their screenings are built on a lottery system. Badge holders prioritize the films they want to see in a given time slot against all other movies playing in that slot, and are assigned their selections based on a complex algorithm of genius organization. You very often have to sacrifice seeing a movie you know everyone will be talking about at that night’s party to see something you personally cannot miss. And while the majority of the festival was packed into several theatres at Austin, Texas’s South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse to see a secret screening (turns out it was Dolemite is My Name), I gladly took my seat for Synchronic, having missed my first two opportunities to see a movie that I was sure would blow my mind.
“A mind-breaking mixture of hallucinogens and horrors.”
Dennis (Jamie Dornan) and Steve (Anthony Mackie) are long-time friends and paramedic partners speeding through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, racing from one drug-overdose to another. There was surely a time when the thrill of bringing patients back from the brink was enough to fulfill them, but years of service and trouble in their personal lives has left them jaded and tired. Dennis spends nearly every shift complaining about a family that loves him because across the ambulance from him is a man who’s still complaining about hangovers and one-night stands. These two feel stuck in place, no longer moving forward in their lives. There was a time when their entire lives were ahead of them and the future was shaping itself in live-time just out of reach. Now, running from drug dens to hotel rooms trying to rescue reckless tourists and drug-addicted locals, it feels like their world has stopped spinning and may crumble around them at any time.
After several incredibly odd calls to treat people that have been injured after taking synthetic drugs, Steve begins to see a connection that police don’t seem too interested in investigating. Among other eyebrow-raising irregularities chalked-up as ‘dumb druggies doing dumb druggie things’ by the local police, Steve and Dennis begin to notice packaging for a drug labeled “Synchronic” at each scene. There’s no explaining or rationalizing the destruction of this new drug, but when Dennis‘s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears after taking it with friends, the two are left to confront the complex reality of this mind-breaking mixture of hallucinogens and horrors. Dennis and his wife Tara (Katie Aselton) canvas the area, put up posters, and beg the police to do everything they can, but Steve suspects that there may be more to Synchronic, and dives head first into a world unlike anything he’s ever known to find Brianna and bring her back home.
“…a mystery that calls into question every law of physics previously thought to be holding our very existence together.”
The drug Synchronic bends reality, and drops the world of our characters on it’s head. Which is pretty dang convenient because that’s exactly what the movie did for me as well. It’s a shame I’m not writing this closer to a full release because how Benson and Moorehead handle what the drug does is absolutely brilliant and unlike anything I’ve seen in similar films. And grounding the insane reality of this story are two fantastic performances from Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan who are forced to stare into the eyes of a mystery that calls into question every law of physics previously thought to be holding our very existence together.
There is no evil corporation in Synchronic that needs to be taken down by force, or monsters from the great beyond that will tear our universe apart. The out-of-this-world mechanics at the heart of this story concern only the people involved. It’s a restricted story that doesn’t ask any bigger questions than “What do we do next?”. While introducing the film at Fantastic Fest, the co-directors were very quick to correct people’s assumptions that the film was their first big-budget feature because it is still a very indie movie. Regardless of budget, the graceful brilliance of this film will not go unrecognized for long. Synchronic is very much a dark science-fiction, but it’s a story about people first and foremost, and proof that Benson and Moorehead are two of today’s the most interesting and innovative storytellers.
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s Synchronic celebrated it’s US premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019 in Austin, Texas. The film stars Anthony Mackie (Black Mirror: Striking Vipers), Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Katie Aselton (The Gift), and Ally Ioannides (Parenthood). We’ll be sure to keep you posted on release details for the Synchronic as they come but in the meantime, read all our coverage of the festival HERE, and join the conversation with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!