This movie plays one of the silliest premises ever in the most serious way possible, and somehow it works.
Synchronic is a 2019 film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival then had to wait out a pandemic until it could get released on Netflix last week. The movie follows Steve and Dennis played by Anthony Mackie and Jaimie Dorian respectively. They are two New Orleans EMT’s who respond to a series of bizarre injuries and deaths all linked to a new designer drug called Synchronic.
The tone of the film is pure art house. It feels like Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain. It uses a muted color palette, somber performances, and a really cool set of match cuts to create a sense of deep intentionality that never quite falls into pretentiousness.
The story is a metaphorical dissertation on death and the nature of time. Steve is dealing with a traumatic past and an uncertain future. Dennis is struggling with his family. His oldest daughter is moving out, and he just had a baby. He doesn’t feel he deserves his wife or the life he leads. Both characters struggle with a sense of existential dread that permeates the entire film.
If that’s all this movie was I would have liked it. It is well made as a serious dissertation, but that’s not all the movie has on its plate. It really goes off the rails as they begin to uncover more about Synchronic and what it does. I won’t spoil it here, but it is very silly.
When the silly plot kicks in I thought about shutting the movie off. It’s easy to do on Netflix. “You’ve only committed a half hour to the movie, just shut it off and find something else.” I stuck with it because I found it’s tone and filmmaking engaging. I liked the match cuts, and I found the recurring visual motif of stars interesting. I’m glad I stuck with it because I ended up getting a lot out of the movie.
There’s a deeply felt emotional core to the film that had quite an effect on me. The central relationship between Steve and Dennis (terrible names by the way. Who heard the name Dennis and thought “Jaimie Dornan?”) is heartfelt and sincere. It feels like a genuine depiction of male friendship. I fell for it and saw myself in these characters.
I ended up having a lot of fun with the premise too once I got over how silly it was. This was eased by the strong visual and tonal cohesion that carried me through. The rules for Synchronic are well established and generate great scenes of tension and excitement.
All in all I’m glad I finished watching this one. It’s not the best movie I’ve seen in a while, but it was a solid film. It was well told and engaging. It wrung some real emotion out of me, and I can safely recommend it. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a little mind bending existential sci-fi drama.
It’s my cup of tea. B+