By Laurie Coker
Filmmaking partners Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, best known for off-Hollywood-type films, team up in Synchronic, a sci-fi mystery starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan. Playing on their knack for arthouse-style filmmaking, the directing duo delves into some dark places -physical and mental – creating what might have been a remarkable storyline but they fail to fully realize their vision.
Mackie (Steve) and Dornan (Dennis), play third watch paramedics who deal with hangovers and long bouts of boredom on the job, until one night they are called to a grisly scene where the victim suffers from impalement by word. A drugged-out girl staggers and blabbers nearby. While Dennis tends to the skewered man, Steve wanders through the crime scene with the camera following along and the story hinting as some designer drug casualty. This “drug” shows up again as do bizarre victim circumstances – stranger and gorier each time – and when Dennis’ teen daughter, Brianna, (Ally Ioannides) goes missing, Steve seeks out a way to “time-travel” to her via the mystery narcotic, but at what cost?
This time-travel pill scenario pushes the limits of sci-fi and leaves the audience members scratching their collective heads, but curiosity takes hold and as Steve tests the limits of the drug’s effects, he ends up in some strange situations, facing even stranger dangers. He buys up all the pills and races to save the girl. Over all, even in these leaps in time, there is an all too sluggish feel to most scenes. Mackie gets the best entertainment value turn when he plays with the pills’ abilities and experiments with some aspects on his dog.
The directors’ imagery is stunning and was Benson’s story able to keep up, the film might have been more intriguing and interesting. An underlying racial theme crops up but is weakly and poorly fleshed out. If there was purpose for it, it’s lost in the implausibilities and darkness. There is a brain-tumor side story as perhaps an explanation for Steve’s “visions” (travel) and this, too, offers a reason why Steve might go after Brianna and not her father.
There are bursts of brilliance in Benson and Moorhead’s vision and strong support for it in their stars. The pace never quite captivates and the “whaaaaaat?” factor distracts from the team’s messages – if indeed there are any. Too many elements simply don’t sync up in Synchronic for it to earn more than a C in the grade book. Still, these directors deserve more time behind the camera. The potential is there.