By Daniel King
A thoughtful and unsettling thriller with sci-fi elements from the directorial team who garnered attention with their two earlier films Resolution and, particularly, The Endless.
Two paramedics, Steve and Dennis, (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) working in New Orleans are called to a series of incidents in which the casualties bear unusual injuries and appear to be in some sort of drug-induced state of bewilderment. The police show no interest but Steve’s attention is piqued and he begins to investigate. Gradually he comes to understand that the incidents are all linked to a synthetic drug called Synchronic which, under the right conditions can actually take the user back in time.
This is a New Orleans you won’t recognise from the proverbial brochures or indeed many other representations in cinema. Drug use is rife, especially among the feckless youth; the authorities are either corrupt, uninterested, or absent altogether; and personal relationships are fleeting. However just when life seems at its most pointless, Steve finds a reason to keep going and it infuses him with energy and purpose. It’s here where the film – although still dark and violent – starts to become oddly uplifting. The things he witnesses as he proceeds in his quest are terrifying and wonderful and show the directors’ imagination in full flow. It’s a magnificent spectacle.
The time-travelling conceit is there to make a broader point about life itself, namely that life has always been brutal, full of fear and prejudice and conflict but the brief moments of wonder and human connection are what make it worth living. I don’t really want to go into the things Steve sees as he hurtles back in time but there is one beautiful moment where he tentatively and fleetingly bonds with a man from whom he is impossibly distanced in time.
Frustratingly though the concept is better than the script which strives to match the directors’ ambition but often falls short of the profundity for which they are clearly aiming. The character of Dennis is particularly under-drawn and ultimately functions more as a plot device than anything else. A good job then that Steve is front and centre for most of the film and Anthony Mackie rises to the challenge superbly. I don’t like the expression ‘character arc’ but such is the one we see here that Mackie has to go from portraying a man drifting through life, only fitfully experiencing anything one might call fulfilling, to a man burning with curiosity and drive. It’s a terrific performance.
Some might call the film pretentious but ignore them; what it is is ambitious. Okay, it just falls short of some of its targets but it offers you things you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.
Synchronic is available on digital platforms from Signature Entertainment.
Watch the trailer for Synchronic below –