More people need to watch this dark time travel thriller from Netflix
Before playing Synchronic 2019, there is one thing you should know.
It’s not that this is a low-budget sci-fi movie with an intriguing premise. It’s not that it stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as best friends. It’s not that its directors helmed a few episodes of Marvel’s moon knight.
It’s that Synchronic is going to really, really bore you with its plot holes, inconsistencies, and nonsensical time-travel mechanics that spin in your head on a loop until a miraculous counter-argument emerges from the haze and convinces you that it all makes sense after all.
Surprisingly, this is a recommendation to watch Synchronic. A dark, frustrating and divisive indie gem with flashes of brilliance. It’s yet another glimpse into the thrilling talent of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (check out 2017’s The Endless for a twisted horror flavor). Simply lean into Synchronic-inspired anger, and eventually, on the other side, you will have a rewarding experience.
Mackie and Dornan play Steve and Dennis, two remarkably laid-back paramedics working in New Orleans. They are called in to treat a series of people who tell inconsistent stories after taking a drug called Synchronic.
Steve and Dennis investigate the origins of the drug and its impossible time travel abilities, while dealing with their crumbling personal lives. Steve is a jaded ladies’ man and Dennis is stuck in a dysfunctional marriage.
The best parts of Synchronic involve the sci-fi element itself. The Discovery. Steve and Dennis are walking along a dark road in the middle of the night, discussing their normal lives, until they enter a house and discover a shocking scene from a horror movie, where someone one has been stabbed and a medieval sword inexplicably sticks out of a wall.
Thanks to some plot devices, Steve eventually takes the drug himself. This is where Synchronic gets thrilling in an awesome visceral way.
Starting from its quiet starting point, the film sends Steve, and us, into the frightening unknown. The threat of sudden and violent death hangs over everything, because in this time travel story, Steve is a black man, and returning to certain places carries a whole different layer of danger.
The working mechanisms of the time travel drug are convincingly revealed as Steve conducts experiments. An analogy involving a record player alone is worth a character appearance. At one point, directors Benson and Moorhead shake things up by giving us Steve’s first-person perspective, putting us right in the driver’s seat to find out what looms in the tense, unpredictable darkness of the next location. .
Other aspects of the drug, including a small stretch after who is behind its creation, are collapsing. Also, while effective in some ways, the general sense of realism can reveal just how ridiculous the drug’s abilities really are.
Still, Steve’s shrewd, clever direction and dry sense of humor delivered with Mackie’s deadpan swagger, shines above Synchronic’s obvious rougher edges. The story is far from perfect, tying itself to the poorly developed emotional core, involving Steve, Dennis, and Dennis’ daughter, Brianna. (A gruesome scene involving Steve’s dog is either an example of bad character decision-making or an intentional yank of our emotional cords.)
Synchronic’s bittersweet ending is frustrating but doesn’t lessen the impact of its greatest parts. Hopefully the film will send you on a spree watching Benson and Moorhead’s other films, four of which are part of a connected universe (some connections are stronger than others).
Synchronic is streaming on Netflix now. It can be slow, with sometimes dodgy dialogue and an ending that will send you spinning out of control. You need maximum attention to watch movies to absorb the subtle details that explain what is happening. And yet, it remains to be interpreted whether absolutely everything makes sense. Cross? Decide yourself.
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