When I attended the screening of Synchronic (2019) as part of the opening night of FrightFest Glasgow 2020, I was sitting beside a few fellow festival-goers who had all seen the film before and had nothing but good things to say about it. However, we were all going into this screening with fresh eyes as this time around, it was the UK premiere of the director’s cut the audience would be treated to. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead were in attendance and explained that they released this cut of the movie to focus more on the emotional side of the story and embrace the non-linear style of storytelling, which a movie about time travel embraces rather well.
Synchronic is front and foremost the tale of two paramedics, Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), and the trials they have to deal with both in their jobs and in their personal lives. New Orleans has a significant drug problem, and the pair of paramedics are continually being called to drug-related cases as new designer drugs start to pop up all over the place. Soon they encounter a new drug called Synchronic, which seems to cause horrible deaths and injuries to anyone who takes it. Dennis’s daughter, Brianna, seems to disappear after taking the drug, and so Steve purchases the remaining supply from a designer drug shop in a bid to rid the city from it once and for all.
However, things aren’t that simple. After a conversation with the creator of the drug, Steve finds out that the drug can send the user back in time. Younger people are more susceptible to the effects and can end up getting stuck in whatever era they land in due to a difference in their brains. When Steve discovers he has a terminal brain tumor, and the required brain structure to travel back in time, he decides to use the remaining stash of the drug to try and work out the theory behind the time travel properties, and potentially save Brianna at the same time.
For a horror/sci-fi movie, Synchronic is incredibly emotional. Both of our main characters are going through very tough personal situations before you even bring the time travel drug into the mix. Not only is Dennis’s daughter missing, but he fears his marriage with his wife Tara is falling apart as they desperately search for Brianna and try to care for their newborn baby. Steve also has to deal with his brain tumor diagnosis on his own. He has no close family and is painted as a character who frequently beds different women and turns up for work hungover. Unable to find comfort in Dennis and his family because of their own troubles, Steve has to deal with everything by himself. This is perhaps why he decides to try and do one last thing for Dennis before he dies by risking what is left of his life and consuming a lot of drugs in a bid to save Brianna.
Steve’s time travel experiments are always incredibly tense. He soon discovers that where you’re standing when you take the drug affects the time period you end up in, so you never know where he’s going to land. He also has a limited amount of time during every trip, with him sometimes racing against time to ensure he makes it back safely.
Overall, I enjoyed Synchronic, but it’s not a film that I would rush back to watch again. It’s quite emotionally draining, and I came out of the screening feeling like I could use a hug. I love how the directors managed to keep most of the movie rooted in the real world, and most of the focus on problems any of us could encounter. Using a designer drug to inject the time travel element into the situation felt like it slotted in with the story perfectly as it didn’t feel too sci-fi. Even when Steve did travel back in time, he didn’t encounter any monsters or anything on the Doctor Who (1963) side of things. It all felt very real and like something that could happen, which perhaps explains my feelings of unease.
It was also a visually stunning piece of cinema, and while I’m perhaps too much of an emotional wimp to watch Synchronic again anytime soon, it does make me excited to check out the rest of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s films in the future.
REVIEW SCORE – 3.5/5
This cut of Synchronic made its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020.