SYNCRHONIC movie poster | ©2020 Go Well USA

SYNCHRONIC movie poster | ©2020 Well Go USA

Rating: R
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef, Bill Oberst Jr.
Writer: Justin Benson
Directors: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Distributor: Well Go USA
Release Date: October 23, 2020

SYNCHRONIC is a pleasingly thoughtful, atmospheric, character-driven film. It has time travel in it, but it is likely to remind viewers more of PRIMER than, say, BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Something deeply odd is happening in the Garden District of New Orleans. People are taking a designer drug called Synchronic, having what we first take to be very strange visions, and then dying in definitely strange ways.

Paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are work partners and longtime best friends. Dennis has a wife (Katie Aselton), college-bound daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) and a new baby. Steve lives with his dog and has a lot of one-night stands.

However, their bond has stood the test of time, including Katrina tragedies that we learn about gradually. When Steve and Dennis roll up on their first weird set of injuries, they are mildly curious. The second set get them thinking something dangerous is happening on their watch. Then it becomes a personal matter for both of them, but because of the specifics, they investigate individually, rather than teaming up.

Directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, working from Benson’s script, create a mood that is immersive, inviting us to have a look around wherever we are and note the details, whether we’re looking across the water to New Orleans or in Steve’s homey living room, or in some other locales. We get just enough exposition to follow what’s happening and to provide motivation for the protagonists.

One of the aspects of SYNCHRONIC that’s impressive is that the filmmakers have come up with a new way for characters to experience time in a way that is impactful for them and us without a lot of CGI or big-budget spectacle. They come up with a number of original set pieces that we don’t anticipate. We also get idiosyncratic details, like an ambulance driver who can’t handle the rig, which lead to more unexpected moments.

Even more gratifying, though, is that most of the suspense is generated by whether relationships will endure, unravel, or come to unnatural ends, rather than trying to get us to fret over action or mythology.

Mackie is moving as a man who goes from numbness to truly attempting to figure out his own purpose. Dornan gives a heartfelt performance as a man coming unglued. Aselton and Ioannides are both persuasive and sympathetic, and Ramiz Monsef is convincing as someone Steve encounters during his search.

SYNCHRONIC is entertaining in its way, and it has some major horror imagery, but it is that rare science-fiction drama that knows how to show rather than tell, getting us to feel something even as we ponder its big concepts.

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