synchronic | justin benson | aaron moorhead | anthony mackie | jamie dornan | katie aselton | drama | sci-fi | united states | drug | time travel | ally ioannides | ramiz monsef | bill oberst jr. | betsy holt | shane brady | kate adair | matthew underwood | carl palmer
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan and Katie Aselton
This is a movie that when I first heard about it, it immediately went on my radar. I’m a fan of the co-directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead coming in and I don’t think I’ve seen one so far that I didn’t like. Jaime did watch this with me, especially since I thought it would intrigue her as well. We also given it a second viewing for my end of year list. The synopsis here is two New Orleans paramedics’ lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.
For this movie, we start off seeing a couple in their room. We see a pill with an interesting ‘S’ that is on it. They both take a hit and he leaves the room. I believe her name is Leah (Betsy Holt) and he is Travis (Shane Brady). The hallucinations start pretty quickly after that for them. Leah believes she’s in a jungle looking at an odd individual. There’s a snake coming toward her. Travis believes he’s falling through the air toward a desert below.
We then get to meet our two stars. As the synopsis states, they are EMTs in New Orleans. There is Steve (Anthony Mackie) and his buddy of Dennis (Jamie Dornan). Steve is single so he’s going out and hooking up when he can. Dennis is married to Tara (Katie Aselton) and they have an 18 year old daughter of Brianna (Ally Ioannides). Dennis and Tara have a new baby, making their lives even more interesting as their daughter is going off to college soon and her parents are struggling with the idea.
The duo goes to a house where an overdose happened. They also find that one of the teens has been stabbed. Steve finds an odd French coin that is distorted. There is also a distorted sword stuck in the wall. Steve isn’t paying attention and he gets a stuck from a needle while attending to the OD. He is afraid he might catch something so it puts him in a somber attitude. This though leads to another discovery; Steve has an inoperable brain tumor.
These two guys then get called to another party and it actually turns out to be friends of Brianna. She is missing from the party. Dennis calls home and Tara can’t find her. They also get called to the hotel room for Leah and Travis. The common thread here is the new designer drug called Synchronic. Steve is taking painkillers that make Dennis concerned, but he doesn’t reveal the true reason why. Dennis is dealing with a lot as his life is falling apart with his daughter missing.
Things all take a turn when Steve goes to a shop that sells Synchronic. His love for Brianna makes him buy the rest of their supply. There he meets Dr. Kermani (Ramiz Monsef), who turns out to be the one who created the drug. It appears that adults would just get high from it, but teens when their pineal gland is still not fully developed, it has another side effect. From Steve’s tests, he learns he still has the pineal gland of a teen. Usually they would calcify and for whatever reasons, his hasn’t yet. The tumor could be the explanation. In his depression of his situation, he pops one of the Synchronic pills he said he flushed and discovers it has an interesting, but dangerous side effects. He thinks he might know what happened to Brianna as well now.
Now where I want to start with breaking this movie down is the duo that directed this. What I think they do so well is taking a real world, mixing in a bit of the supernatural, but doing it in a way that works. This movie is so grounded in reality that I can buy what they’re doing with this designer drug. I didn’t catch on until I was watching the movie that the name for it is just combining synthetic and chronic together. Not overly creative, but enough for me. Benson and Moorhead are also good at bringing in science when dealing with the supernatural. This one leans into it the most, but it does so in a way that I liked.
I’m not going to give away what the reveal of taking this drug does, but I will say I love the idea that these hallucinations are vivid. This is to the point where they might actually not be hallucinations. What this movie is about is something that I really enjoy, but I understand that the science behind it is theoretical and doesn’t always work. Because of this, it is hard to pull off. I think this movie is closer than many, especially since the location you are standing when taking it affects what you see. Jaime brought a good point that things they do while they’re on this drug, could it alter events? This movie keeps things a bit broad and with the timeframe we’re working with, doesn’t affect things. That could be the sequel though to flesh that out if they see fit.
What I want to do next is really breakdown the characters here. Steve is pointed out to be a womanizer. Tara states that he has to sit away from the rest of the people at the party because he’s slept with so many of her friends. He tries to argue, but not all that hard. He is coping though with his situation in life. We keep getting these flashes of heavy rains and coffins. Something happened to him during Katrina that has scarred him. He is also alone. It is interesting with Dennis as he has everything that Steve wants. His friend is struggling with different things in his life. It is about perspective there. To cope, Steve is using drugs, alcohol and women to fill that void. It doesn’t help that he’s also faced with his own mortality. He sees his shot at redemption though and I love the growth we get of his character for that. I’d say that Mackie is great in his performance of this character. I can also buy him as this ‘armchair physis’ from the classes he took in college to be an EMT/doctor.
On the other side we have his best friend of Dennis. The two of them get in a fight and Steve cuts him deep by stating that Dennis doesn’t deserve his wife. It is true though. Dennis even confirms it. Tara and he got pregnant early into knowing each other. Brianna is the glue keeping them together. We do see that some families when they lose a child fall apart. We are getting that here. What I like though is that it doesn’t feel like it is too late. Brianna disappearing has strained them, but they don’t know if she is dead or just missing. Plus, our events are all over just a few days as well. I was impressed with Dornan here, as I didn’t think he was that good of an actor until seeing this movie.
Since I’ve delved into our leads, I’ll briefly go into the rest of the cat. I like Aselton and Ioannides. Tara is friends with Steve and she is Dennis’ rock. What is interesting about the latter is that without Brianna there, they are falling apart. He is self-sabotaging himself and it is interesting. Brianna does disappear for a good portion of this movie, but I like what they establish with her. She is also the catalyst for what the movie does. I thought the cameos by Monsef, Bill Oberst Jr. and the rest of the cast also rounded this out for what was needed.
Then the last thing that I wanted to go into would be the effects. I love what they do here with showing us someone who has taken the drugs and them melting into the hallucination. It at first would be like a tree or some kind of item. The camera will normally pan to it and then come back to them. They do things with CGI, but I’ll be honest, it is subtle enough that I had no issues. The different places people go while on Synchronic worked for me. Steve also was interested in physics while in college, so I love how he can somewhat explain enough for me to understand and help me to piece things together as I said. The cinematography for this movie is well done as well. I also like how this is edited. We don’t get this in a linear way of telling it. That fits for what this drug does to people. It took this second viewing to put it together and it is actually quite genius to be honest.
In conclusion here, I dug what this movie was doing. I did see a lot of people questioning if this was horror or not and I can see the argument. I think there are enough elements here to keep in at least in the adjunct category. This movie though explores the use of experimental designer drugs. I think there is an interesting look at these two characters that are having their own issues, which could be medical, inadequacies or even addiction. There is an interesting blend of science with this as well that I enjoy. The acting I thought was good across the board. The effects were as well and the soundtrack fit for what was needed. I would say this movie is a good movie after that first viewing. With this second one, I’ve confirmed that it is to me and one of my favorites of the year.
My Rating: 8 out of 10