Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie lead recently-released sci-fi thriller Synchronic from writer and co-director Justin Benson – who co-directs with Aaron Moorhead who brought us acclaimed horror Spring back in 2014. Synchronic provides a narrative that feels unique as it bringing elements of folk-horror and paramedic procedural together, with a skin-crawling tension and unease.
New Orleans paramedics Steve (Mackie) and Dennis (Dornan) are inundated with mysterious deaths and injuries linked to a new designer drug, synchronic. The news that Steve only has six weeks to live, prompts him to begin experimenting with synchronic and attempt to solve the case of Dennis’s missing daughter.
Opening with a chilling sequence showing two of the victims of synchronic experimenting with the mysterious drug, the aesthetic punch of Synchronic becomes evident. We see the couple placed in a mysterious swamp setting faced with a conquistador tapping into elements of trippy, folk horror with Benson and Moorhead delivering the full horror potential of the premise. Scenes not showcasing people on synchronic trips, capture the New Orleans setting with an almost drab grey realism. This is not the New Orleans of bustling music and neon signs, this is a seedier side of the city delving into impoverished, barely-furnished houses laden with stains and grime – captured wonderfully by Moorhead who takes cinematography duty on this.
When the narrative delves into its time travel angle, it retains this griminess. With the narcotic synchronic allowing users to travel to different time zones, Benson and Moorhead have a huge scope – yet they retain control of this throughout as Mackie’s protagonist faces new threats with each new hit of the drug. This unpredictable element ensures that Synchronic feels fresh and consistently gripping as viewers experience these trips with Steve – diving into new risks of the past – from conquistadors to the KKK and the bone-chilling conditions of snowstorm filled winters. These scenes retain the skin-crawling grimy aesthetics of the urban scenes, yet provide a new set of dangers and thrills as a result of these ‘bad trips’.
Whilst Mackie’s storyline feels relatively strong, Dornan’s feels somewhat more contrived. Giving Mackie’s character six weeks to live would be enough to justify these addictive self-destructive trips, with the addition of the missing daughter storyline not hugely essential. Dornan’s character Dennis is not given a particular sense of emotional development – given the trauma the character faces hunting for his daughter.
Synchronic still remains an impressive experience. It’s grim urban aesthetics fused with progressive and unsettling moments of surreal horror ensure that it is a success. The unpredictable tension in the time travel ‘trips’ makes up some slightly more contrived elements in Dornan’s storyline.
Synchronic is available on home premiere from January 29th.