Friday 6 March 2020

Synchronic (2019)

I was going to start this review by mentioning the fact that Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (once again both sharing directing duties on a script from Benson) have shown less and less interest over the years in the horror genre. That's not true. They never really set their stall within the genre, and that's not a bad thing. Without being constrained by the expectations of the genre, Benson and Moorhead have managed to consistently entertain fans with intelligent movies that usually explore the concept of time (Resolution has moments showing how an addict fails to keep track of time, Spring has the idea of potential immortality, maybe, and The Endless has lots of time trickery in there). And they've done this while also not having to shy away from moments that show madness, monstrosity, or excessive bodily harm.

Synchronic, their latest movie, is both their most ambitious, and yet also their most simplistic, work to date. It seems to benefit from a decent step up in terms of budget, it has room for some great set-pieces as it develops the plot naturally in a way that draws you all the way in with ease, and it's another one of their films with a very strong heartbeat at the centre of it all.

Plot-wise, Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan are two paramedics who are seeing all kinds of new and mind-boggling traumas on their rounds. It all seems to be linked with a drug named Synchronic. Synchronic seems to take people slightly out of time. And if you're a younger user then you could end up disappearing completely. This ends up happening to a fairly important character, which leads to Mackie figuring out exactly what Synchronic does, and how he can make use of it to rescue the missing party.

Starting off with a number of impressive individual moments, the opening act of Synchronic may put some off slightly if you don't have faith in Benson and Moorhead to start drawing the strings together and providing something that will entertain while it remains thought-provoking. Although they like to set up a lot of questions, a lot of points for viewers to ponder, Benson and Moorhead rarely leave you without the main answers. Sure, you have a lot of things that may remain slightly puzzling as you play catch up and continue to ingest everything else being fed to you, but none of their movies are impenetrable or deliberately obfuscating for viewers who pay attention.

They give themselves bonus points here with the central casting. Dornan and Mackie work really well together, and I mean REALLY well, and Mackie is at his absolute best in a middle section that shows him dealing with a lot of personal pain, exploring the world of Synchronic, and ultimately deciding on a course of action that he knows his friend won't necessarily understand, but also knows that he needs. Going through a full range of emotions, Mackie is the heart and soul of the film, and I hope his name draws his fans here to see how good he can be. Which isn't to detract from Dornan's work, giving a performance that is just as impressive without having the more memorable moments given to Mackie. Elsewhere, Katie Aselton does well in the role of Dornan's wife, and Ally Ioannides is very good as his 18-year-old moody daughter. You also get a small, but memorable, turn from the ever-dependable Bill Oberst Jr, in a role that I like to think of as a small call back to Resolution (there are also some red flowers/seeds mentioned in passing that I am taking as a deliberate reference, and if I am wrong on these points then I'll always be right to me).

Making excellent use of every tool at their disposal, Benson and Moorhead continue to push themselves, in terms of realising concepts and delivering more and more beautiful works of cinema. There are a number of shots here that are genuinely stunning, accompanied by a wonderful score by Jimmy LaValle. This is a film happy to take you through the highs and lows of, well, just what the universe around us has to offer. Time is a gift. It doesn't matter if it's linear, looped, squiggly, or available in different chunks. Every moment is a gift. And this film is another gift from two men who keep giving fans unexpected and wonderful entertainment every time they get their vision onscreen.

You'll kick yourself if you don't make some time for Synchronic.


Me and my new BFFs (L-R: Aaron Moorhead, me, Justin Benson) 

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