SYNCHRONIC was originally reviewed at TIFF 2019

PLOT: Two New Orleans paramedics (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) notice a series of grisly deaths are seemingly related to a new designer drug called Synchronic.

REVIEW: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are a filmmaking duo that have been building up a lot of buzz in the genre community ever since their debut, RESOLUTION. Their follow-ups, SPRING and THE ENDLESS were break-out indie hits, leading to SYNCHRONIC, which sees them working with a larger budget and two big stars, Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan. I must admit to this being my first time watching one of Moorehead and Benson’s films, but considering how much I loved this one I guess it’s time for me to catch up. This is a striking piece of work.

synchronic jamie dornan anthony mackie

In some ways reminiscent of the work of Shane Carruth, SYNCHRONIC is a character-based genre flick that assumes a certain degree of sophistication from its audience. The first act will be make or break for some, as it’s not the type of film one can immediately get a handle on, but the pay-off is spectacular, with it carrying some legitimate emotional weight which left a lump in my throat at more than a few points along the way.

However, SYNCHRONIC is also a film that needs to be seen as free of spoilers as possible, as the second act twist legitimately changes the genre of the film we’re watching. The curveball Benson and Moorhead throw at us is a big one and relies on some pretty massive suspension of disbelief, but if you go with it the reward is one of the more interesting films of the year, and for me, one of the sleeper hits at this year’s TIFF.

Mackie and Dornan are well-paired as the buddy paramedics. Dornan’s Dennis is the put-upon family man, juggling a troubled relationship with his wife (Katie Aselton ), their new baby, and the fact that his eighteen-year-old daughter (Ally Ioannides) is newly asserting her independence and on the verge of leaving the nest. By contrast, Mackie’s Steve is a happy-go-lucky bachelor, at least on the surface anyway. It’s not long into the movie when his character is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, a twist of fate that leaves him uniquely attuned to the effects of Synchronic, a drug many of the gruesomely maimed and killed patients they pick up use, and one Dennis’s daughter gets mixed up with pretty early on.

This leads us to the big twist which significantly alters the ride we’ve been on, and it’s a doozy. It might not have worked had the filmmaking been less assured and the performances not as strong, but all the elements work here. Both leads are excellent, but I’d wager this is Mackie’s show, giving what might be a career-best performance as the heroic Steve, who’s willing to put it all on the line to help his friend and his family.

Mackie’s so good here that it’ll make you wonder why he’s not one of the biggest stars in the biz, with him getting a lot to chew on. Moorehead and Benson put him through the wringer, and he’s tremendously affecting, with him able to convey a lot of affection for Dornan’s character and also for another co-star who’s unforgettable here, a dog named Hawking who’ll break your heart.

It should be noted though that despite the premise, which makes this sound like a horror flick, SYNCHRONIC’s a much lower-key, emotional experience than you might expect. While the visuals are often striking (Moorehead doubles as the DP, while Benson also wrote the script), it’s the performances (as well as the amazing score by Jimmy LaValle) that shatter you. While this probably all seems a little vague for a review, the fact is you have to walk into SYNCHRONIC not knowing too much about it beforehand. Watch it with an open mind and be rewarded by an under-the-radar pick from TIFF that’s a real gem.

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