Saturday, October 24, 2020

Moorhead & Benson’s Synchronic

It might be a trip, but it isn’t necessarily fun to take. However, it is great to watch from the safety of the audience’s perspective. In this case, the very latest designer drug has an especially heavy kick. It alters the mind’s perspective of time, inducing literal time travel. Of course, getting back is the difficult part in Synchronic, the latest film from Moorhead & Benson (a.k.a. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead), which just opened in actual theaters (but obviously not in the City).

Steve Danube and Dennis Dannelly have been seeing some pretty horrifying things recently when responding to calls as New Orleans paramedics. The crime scenes are inexplicably surreal, but there is one commonality, the newest synthetic: Synchronic. Sadly, double-pronged tragedy will soon hit very close to home for both first responders. Dannelly’s daughter Brianna will mysteriously disappear while taking Synchronic at a college party and Danube will be diagnosed with a brain tumor. As fate would have it, the growth is right above his pineal gland.

Sick of the destruction wrought by Synchronic, Danube buys up all the remaining borderline-legal stock, but doing so, he draws the attention of a stranger who knows its time-traveling secret. Evidently, it works through the pineal gland, which usually calcifies for those who reach their third responsible decade or so, but Danube’s has been kept ironically and unhealthily young. To find Brianna, he will take a series of spectacularly bad trips, with each one steadily depleting his supply.

Moorhead & Benson are emerging as masters of genre films that are mind-bending, but also powerfully emotionally charged. As with their prior collaborations, Benson handles the screenwriting on his own, but
Synchronicity is clearly very much shaped and informed by their partnership. To a large extent, the film portrays all the hard work necessary to make bromance work, long after the equivalent of the bro honeymoon. Yet, they still pull us in with an intriguing genre hook—in this case a take on time travel that we really haven’t seen before.

Anthony Mackie is flat-out terrific as Danube. It is a complex portrayal of a flawed man, who shifts from being angry at the world and life in general to an acute concern over some very extreme developments—that’s called growing up. He banters and spars with Jamie Dornan’s Dannelly quite effectively, but the chemistry he develops with Ally Ioannides, as Brianna, is even more interesting. It is the kind of jury-rigged family relationships that are so important in real-life, but are rarely seen on film.

Although Dornan’s work as Dannelly initially seems more distant, he has some blisteringly honest and intense scenes at pivotal junctures. This is a great showcase for genre acting, but Moorhead & Benson are a little slow setting it all in motion. Frankly, the first act is rather dark and confusing, but once the exposition is handled, the film locks in and grabs viewers.

In New Orleans, Moorhead & Benson found the perfect city to set their wild yet moody tale. The Crescent City by night has an appropriately ominous look (that Moorhead milks for all its worth, as the cinematographer) and it also has some incredibly awkward history for Danube to suddenly trip into. The title is likely to cause confusion with Jacob Gentry’s
Synchronicity, which is also a very stylish time travel movie, but Synchronic is even more compelling (but the two would make a very satisfying double feature). Very highly recommended for time travel fans, Synchronic is now playing at the AMC Newport Centre in Jersey, but not in movie-less New York City.