In 2004, with a budget of just £7,000, Primer ripped up our expectations and perceptions of time travel, revealing it to be something far stranger and more intoxicating than popular culture had led us to believe. In hindsight, it now seems inevitable that Shane Carruth’s closest contemporaries – Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson – would one day tackle the subject. And fresh off the success of several low-budget sci-fi mind-benders – particularly The Endless, and Spring – this feels like the right time for the pair to finally do something big.
Kudos is certainly due to Benson and Moorhead for trying to put a fresh spin on one of the most overdone themes in science fiction, and it really does feel like they tried to come up with something unique. In attempting to reinvent the wheel, however, they’ve ended up creating… well… a wheel.
Synchronic stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as paramedics encountering a series of increasingly strange and violent drug overdoses. Although they don’t know what’s going on, the prologue effectively tells us, upfront, that the titular drug allows its users to travel through time and space. We therefore spend around an hour of the film’s 100-minute runtime waiting for our characters to catch up and, whilst its use of nocturnal
mise-en-scène and the lighting never look anything less than beautiful, it does all feel a little pointless.
After a series of increasingly silly events that we won’t waste time chronicling here, Mackie’s character eventually takes the drug and the film begins proper. One gets the sense that this was intended to be a game-changing twist, although the spoilerific prologue effectively set it out for us an hour prior. It would be interesting to know whether it was a late addition to the script by whoever paid for the damn thing.
Benson and Moorhead’s big idea here turns out to be that time exists on a continuum (gasp), and that this fictional drug effectively transforms the user into what is described as a record needle: where you stand determines what time you travel to. It’s a pretty neat idea, but not one that’s interesting enough to sustain a whole film, let alone make us forget the loose ludicrousness of the forced plot surrounding it. For a pair that became known for their thought-provoking ideas, Synchronic falls startlingly short.
As the film goes on, Benson and Moorhead progressively overload their script with pseudo-philosophical musings about time and happiness that never really land, in part because they’re corny as fuck, and also because they make little-to-no sense. It’s like Interstellar’s intergalactic hamminess colliding with a Syfy original, which ensures Synchronic will become a favourite of people who think they’re a lot more profound than they actually are.
Whilst we’re at it, we might also mention that Synchronic seems determined to raise the spectre of historical racism – there’s a potential that, at one point, the film was intended to actually be *about* racism and the way in which it has defined and consumed America through time. But the way it’s handled here feels like an afterthought – toothless and afraid to actually make a statement – and the film ends up looking perversely more offensive because of it.
Still, it’s not all bad. As mentioned, this is a wonderful looking film – shot in a way that makes it feel as if our characters are the only people left in starlit suburbia – and it has a magical way of transitioning into stellar imagery. For the first time in a Benson and Moorhead film however, the special effects may look wonderful but everything else falls flat. As this review was being written, news broke that the pair will be helming Marvel’s Moon Knight; that’ll be more of the same in the future, then.
Synchronic releases on demand January 29th.