SYNCHRONIC / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JUSTIN BENSON, AARON MOORHEAD / SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN BENSON / STARRING: ANTHONY MACKIE, JAMIE DORNAN, KATIE ASELTON, ALLY IOANNIDES / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Steve and Dennis, a pair of New Orleans paramedics, encounter a series of bizarre deaths involving people dying from injuries seemingly impossible for them to have sustained, all somehow linked to a new designer drug. They soon find themselves pulled into a surreal underground of altered perception, which begins an inexorable encroachment on everyday reality.
Like director duo Jason Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s previous work with Spring and The Endless, Synchronic is certainly a genre movie, but one difficult to classify simply. To attempt to do so would be something of a spoiler and ruin much of the film’s early mystery, and would also oversimplify its setup to the point of doing it a disservice. As with the pair’s other work, this is a very human tale of people who happen to get caught up in cosmic events beyond their comprehension that they are pulled into and must learn to navigate if they want to make it out the other side.
The film opens with some beautifully shot but contextually baffling scenes that take some time to take on any narrative relevance, but once they do they become an intrinsic aspect of the tapestry of chaos being woven on the streets of the ancient city.
The story largely focuses on Steve as the hectic challenges of his job make way for the surreal madness that awaits him. Terminally ill, he sleepwalks through an empty existence of anonymous sex and recreational drug use in an attempt to fill the empty black pit in the depths of his soul wherein used to reside hope for the future and the will to carry on. He gradually uncovers the mystery of the titular narcotic and how it’s connected to the disappearance of Dennis’ teenage daughter, and with his illness leaving him uniquely attuned to the drug’s capabilities that other matured minds are denied (in the process tacitly referencing Stuart Gordon’s sophomore Lovecraft take From Beyond), he decides that her rescue might be perhaps the one thing he can do that will allow his truncated life to take on some meaning.
His partner Dennis, proving that Jamie Dornan is actually capable of expressing recognisable human emotion when the material actually allows him to do so, provides a more functional perspective on life, the family struggles he undergoes being painfully relatable and refreshingly banal. Some humour interspersed between the tales of human strife and confusion – a running joke about their terrible ambulance driver being a highlight – alleviates the emotional turmoil the characters and the audience are otherwise perpetually subjected to.
Meditating on mortality, the passage of time and the cycle of life, Synchronic is a deep and meaningful experience that requires some thought to fully absorb the significance of. The message at its heart suggests that life is to be cherished as you can never be certain how much of it you will have. Even in the face of the infinite complexities of the universe, simple humanity is a gift not to be squandered, and the connections we make with one another leave a mark on the world long after we have left it.