Combustible Celluloid
With: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef, Bill Oberst Jr., Betsy Holt, Shane Brady, Matthew Underwood, Carl Palmer
Written by: Justin Benson
Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
MPAA Rating: R for drug content and language throughout, and for some violent/bloody images
Running Time: 103
Date: 10/23/2020

Synchronic (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pilling Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The sci-fi movie Synchronic is arguably more of a chase movie than anything with deep, resounding themes, but it still nicely balances a nifty idea with surprising FX, strong characters, and classical suspense.

Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are New Orleans ambulance drivers and best friends. Dennis is married, with a teen daughter, Brianna (Ally Ioannides), and a new baby, while Steve is a hard-drinking playboy. At work, they have discovered people dying from a drug called "Synchronic," and at the same time Steve discovers he has a lethal brain tumor in his pineal gland.

Then, Brianna turns up missing after having taken the drug herself. Dennis struggles with trying to find her, while Steve buys up all of the drug he can find to keep it off the street. He soon discovers that it works with the pineal gland and has the ability to transport its user through time. After a few experiments, he realizes that he may be able to use his remaining pills to find Brianna and bring her back.

Co-directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead — who contributed a segment to the horror anthology V/H/S: Viral and crafted the excellent low-budget sci-fi The Endless (2018) — take a slow-build approach to their story of Synchronic. They establish the nuances of the characters and their relationships, as well as the details of Steve and Dennis's job, long before anything supernatural comes up. Sure, the drug reacting with the pineal gland and Steve's cancer being in the same place are a bit too much of a coincidence, but it's forgivable.

When the time traveling finally kicks in, we really know Steve and everyone else quite well, and we come to care quite a bit about them. The time travel sequences are dark and brutal, highlighting a world history of violence and persecution and raw survival.

It's a stark contrast to something like Back to the Future, which Steve verbally demolishes while watching it on TV in a bar. Benson and Moorhead find a muted, naturalistic visual style that seems to connect all the times together, perhaps with death as a common denominator. But even though Synchronic is frequently dark and heartbreaking, it also movingly celebrates sacrifice and heroism, as well as family.

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