When it comes to sci-fi movies, a little ambition is never a bad thing. After all, with films that are supposed to stretch our imaginations into new unknown concepts, you want your minds to be challenged. However, it is also possible to completely overdo it and lose much of the human heart of the story. And this is a fine balancing act that Netflix’s new sci film Synchronic tries to pull off. In in end it succeeds, but only after several stumbles along the way.

Well, to call this movie “new” is perhaps a misnomer. Synchronic was actually released back in 2019 at the Toronto Film Festival, but a combination of COVID-19 and some obscure ideas that meant it would likely never appeal to mainstream audiences led it to only getting a minor release in the US in late October of last year. Thankfully, Netflix stepped in to give the film a wider release and allow the rest of the world gets to see this movie.

Synchronic tells the story of two paramedics, Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (Jamie Dornan), in a city that it’s fighting a new drug epidemic. However, beyond just hallucinogenic properties though, it appears this drug is able to alter the physiology of the body up to a point where it can cause some people to experience a form of time travel. It’s a bizarre concept that the movie tries to offer some hooey science explanations for. As with so many movies that deal with time travel, the film is fraught with paradox errors but does a solid job at trying to build certain rules around how the drug works that makes most of it kind-of plausible.

However, Synchronic is less about trying to be a realistic science film and rather more focused on telling the deeply personal stories behind its two lead characters and the disappearance of Dennis’ daughter. And it’s this human drama that gives the film its edge and challenges you to get involved in the fate of its characters.

Co-written and co-directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Synchronic is doing more than just trying to tell an ambitious story, but is also filmed in a rather ambitious way that could easily frustrate people who aren’t willing to invest the time in it. Much like the way the drug messes with time, so does the movie as it tells its story in a largely non-linear fashion. This ordinarily wouldn’t be an issue, but the technique is perhaps overused at the start where its disparate scenes often make little sense and offer little clues to piece together what takes place when. And while most of it does resolve by the end, I can easily see people choosing to watch something else as it’s incredibly frustrating to follow things at the start.

The filmmaking duo is also ambitious in their execution of many scenes, with several well-executed long-take shots permeating the film that show some incredible wizardry at setting up their camera work (Moorhead served as Cinematographer too), while the scenes also contribute to the overall confusion and mystery the characters are experiencing. It shows that Benson and Moorhead have a lot of talent and remain a directorial force to look out for in the future.

The movie is well shot overall, though perhaps overdoes the dark tones and nighttime scenes. Some of the dialogue between the characters is perhaps also not up to scratch and doesn’t always do the great dramatic acting of Mackie and Dornan justice, as both actors bring their A-game. Don’t expect the zinging charms they’ve shown off in other roles though as Synchronic can be rather bleak as it details some of the horrible realities of their lives. There’s a distinct lack of comedic elements throughout, which does mean it’s a movie that is unlikely to pick you up. Mindless entertainment is not why you hit play on this one though, as the story itself can be rather thought-provoking. And although certain aspects of its final climactic scene are a tad rushed and lack some dramatic tension, the film provides a satisfactory conclusion to its central characters’ arcs.   

Altogether Synchronic provides a cleverly thought out and deeply introspective look at the world of drugs, family turmoil, and time travel. It does feature some choppy and confusing editing and not all of its sci-fi elements work well, but the strength of the overall story is enough to make it a worthwhile watch.

Last Updated: April 26, 2021

Synchronic is a film built on an unexpected sci-fi premise and some great performances that gets a little lost in its ambitious filmmaking.
64/ 100

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