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article imageReview: TIFF 2019: ‘Synchronic’ features a drug that redefines escape Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 13, 2019 in Entertainment
‘Synchronic’ is a bizarre sci fi picture about a designer drug that’s main side effects include time travel and possible historical death.
It’s not as difficult to gain a following in the genre community as enthusiasts appreciate filmmakers who can think out of the box and offer fresh concepts in a market saturated by recycled ideas. It starts with the one breakout film that only a small portion of the community saw, but made a significant impression. Then their next movie gets some more buzz and the next a little more, until people are watching a movie simply because their name is attached. This was to some extent the case for directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead whose latest feature is Synchronic.
Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are New Orleans paramedics, which means, like most emergency workers in major cities, they’ve attended their fair share of gnarly scenes. But that still doesn’t prepare the med school washouts for the latest slate of bizarre victims to cross their paths. A new designer drug called Synchronic is causing nearly impossible injuries and, somewhat more concerning, unexplainable disappearances. When Dennis’ daughter goes missing, putting greater stress on his already strained marriage, Steve discovers his recently diagnosed ailment may make him the only person capable of bringing her home.
As with most of the duo’s films, the picture starts off relatively normal. Introducing the buddy ambulance workers, audiences learn Dennis is a begrudging family man and Steve is a hard-partying bachelor with both men envying the other’s life. Unfortunately, once the science fiction element kicks in, many may think all the exposition about their personal lives is superfluous and the time may have been better spent exploring the drug’s manufacturer or other user’s experiences. But Benson and Moorhead have always opted to let the viewer get to know their protagonists before plunging them into whatever oddity they’ve devised for the narrative, while leaving a shroud of mystery around the peculiarity itself.
At the centre of the story is a designer drug that can manipulate time and space. The how is unimportant, but it does introduce some basic rules that guide every experience. It’s a bizarre concept with no grounding in reality, except perhaps for the historical periods manifested by the pill. An issue they smartly decide not to address is the potential to materialize inside a historically positioned inanimate object, though it also seems there may be some unspoken physical law in place preventing that from happening. Unsurprisingly, the science fiction aspect of the narrative is by far more interesting than any of the family dynamics.
Nevertheless, Mackie and Dornan have a mostly believable relationship. Although it starts with the impression that Dennis may be at the movie’s centre, Steve gradually moves into the driver seat and takes control of the narrative. Thankfully Benson and Moorhead don’t really work in clichés, so this picture ends as it should while not trying to over-explain anything.
Synchronic had its world premiere in the Special Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2019 coverage.
Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Anthony Mackie and Katie Aselton
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