Synchronic (2019) ☆☆☆: A little intriguing SF flick set in New Orleans

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s latest film “Synchronic” puts some interesting ideas on a familiar type of science fiction tale. Although I was a little disappointed that it does not fully develop its intriguing story promise, the movie still fairly works well mainly thanks to its several distinctive elements including its authentic local atmosphere, and it is surely another interesting work from Benson and Moorhead.

After the opening scene which clearly shows us what it is going to be about, the movie introduces us to Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (James Dornan), two paramedics working in New Orleans. While Steve is your typical ladies’ man, Dennis is an average married guy, but they have been close friends for years, and we observe how their different personalities complement each other as they work together every night.

As two seasoned professionals, Steve and Dennis have seen a lot as dealing with various cases of medical emergency, but then they come across a series of mysterious incidents of drug abuse which baffle not only them but also the local cops handling these weird incidents. While it is quite apparent that the people in these incidents took some special type of synthetic drug, many of them are seriously injured for no apparent reason, and one of these cases is particularly strange. The woman in this case is clearly bitten by a certain kind of snake, but that snake in question is supposed to have been extinct for many years.

While handling these baffling incidents along with his friend, Steve finds a clue to that synthetic drug in question, which is named, yes, Synchronic, and he soon begins to track down where Synchronic can be purchased. That turns out to be easier than expected, and it does not take much time for him to realize how risky using Synchronic is. As already shown to us at the beginning, Synchronic is capable of transporting its users to anywhere in the past for a while, and we get some scientific explanation on that from a guy who later approaches to Steve for an urgent motive.

Meanwhile, Benson’s screenplay also focuses on what is going on in Steve and Dennis’ respective private lives. After due to a minor accident involved with possibly contaminated syringe needle, Steve promptly gets himself examined, and then there comes a devastating news which makes him reflect on how his life has been going. Besides Dennis and his family, there is no other people particularly close to him, and he has lived only with a pet dog whose name will amuse you a little for a good reason.

In case of Dennis, he often finds himself feeling rather distant to his dear wife and their adolescent daughter. During one early scene in the film, his daughter and Steve have a little casual conversation as looking at Dennis from the distance, and we come to sense more of the growing gap between her and her father, who is often more occupied with his job and friend while usually taking his family for granted.

The movie sometimes trudges as trying to balance itself between its science fiction plot and its two character’s personal dramas, but it steadily accumulates its narrative momentum at least, and it subsequently delivers a number of nice visual moments while never losing its focus on what is being at stake for Steve and the other main characters in the film. As becoming a man who has nothing to lose with lots of uncertainty in front of him, Steve subsequently embarks on a little personal mission via Synchronic, and we get some amusement as he goes through several trials where he comes to learn some important rules. As time and resource are running out for him, he becomes more obsessive and desperate, and that accordingly causes a considerable rift between him and Dennis.

What follows next is rather predictable, but Moorhead and Benson, who also edited and produced the film, keeps holding our attention via their competent handling of story and mood. In addition to conveying to us well a vivid local sense of people and locations in New Orleans, Moorhead’s cinematography often gives us impressive shots to be admired, and I especially like a long-take shot which fluidly moves around the characters within a small space.

Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan give engaging performances as diligently carrying the film together. While Mackie, who has been mainly known for his notable appearances in several recent Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, is relatively more prominent along his character’s dramatic arc in the story, Dornan, who has shown that he is indeed too good to be known only for “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015) and its two following sequels, holds his own place well besides his co-star, and Ally Ioannides and Katie Aselton are also fine in their rather functional supporting roles.

On the whole, “Synchronic” will not surprise you much if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me, and I was a bit dissatisfied with its several underdeveloped aspects, but the overall result confirms to me that Benson and Moorhead are a talented pair to watch. Although it does not knock me down hard like their previous film “The Endless” (2017) did, it is still a smart and economical genre piece to be appreciated for mood, storytelling, and performance, and I think you should give it a chance someday if you are looking for something different.

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