Inventive time-travel thriller 'Synchronic' compromised by conventions

  • Two New Orleans paramedics (Jamie Dornan, left, and Anthony Mackie) stumble upon a series of odd injuries and deaths in "Synchronic."

    Two New Orleans paramedics (Jamie Dornan, left, and Anthony Mackie) stumble upon a series of odd injuries and deaths in "Synchronic." Courtesy of Well Go USA

 
 
Posted10/23/2020 6:00 AM

"Synchronic" - ★ ★ ★

Most people might drop "Synchronic" into the time-travel genre, but it has more in common with the first "Star Wars" trilogy than it does "Looper" or "The Time Machine."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Like the trilogy, "Synchronic" celebrates the power of bonded friendship set against a science-fiction/fantasy backdrop.

The beginning sequences might hold an unusual resonance for Northwest suburban audiences who remember the horrific 1982 Tylenol Murders in which victims from across the suburbs died after taking cyanide-laced capsules purchased at random local stores.

Paramedics connected the dots to discover the common link to the mysterious deaths.

In "Synchronic," night shift New Orleans paramedics and best pals Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) stumble upon a series of inexplicable injuries and deaths.

A man has been run-through with an ancient sword.

A woman in bed suffers from a horrible malady that a paramedic describes as similar to being bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Yet another man has been dismembered at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

At each scene, Steve notices a wrapper for a designer drug called Synchronic, a pill that we conveniently learn from its chemist inventor has been molecularly altered just enough to not be illegal, but create unintended, potentially dangerous side-effects -- the drug transports its taker into a random time period in the past for about seven minutes.

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"Synchronic" comes from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, filmmaking partners known for their oddly genre-bent movies "Resolution" and "The Endless."

Here, their inventive, fresh take on time-travel films becomes undercut by commercial conventions, such as the provocative teaser opening scene that blunts the suspense over what actually happens to victims of the drug.

For the most part, Benson and Moorhead build a convincing internal logic that holds together, even as Steve discovers he has incurable brain cancer significantly messing with his pineal gland (a body part not heard from since Chicagoan Stuart Gordon's 1986 horror tale "From Beyond").

When Dennis' troubled daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) mysteriously disappears from a party after taking Synchronic, Steve decides that maybe, just maybe, he can figure out how to use the drug to find her without letting Dennis know.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Synchronic" goes in directions we don't expect, especially when Dennis drops out of the movie for a chunk of time while Steve experiments with the pills.

Sophisticated special effects combine with Moorhead's nifty camera work (subtle match-cuts, dramatic jump-cuts, smooth tracking shots and a superb "God shot" looking down from above) to elevate "Synchronic" to a visual treat.

But parts of Benson's screenplay feel three drafts away from finished, particularly in the stock roles of Dennis' damsel-in-distress daughter and his patiently supportive wife (Katie Aselton), and in the unexplored hints of racism Steve experiences during one trial run of the drug.

For a movie that begins with such an arresting, innovative premise, "Synchronic" settles for a tidy feel-good finale.

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Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides

Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Other: A Well Go USA release. In theaters and VOD. Rated R for drug content, language and violence. 100 minutes

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