Thursday 14 October 2021

Synchronic (2021) - Movie Review

Normally, when picking a movie to review, it usually involves some light Googling and finding names that I either recognise directly or recognise any of the work associated with them. This is why I tend to pick out specific members of the cast and crew whenever I do these write-ups. However, this film is a bit different to that as, aside from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s names being attached to last year’s excellent She Dies Tomorrow, I have no real experience with their own bodies of work. Nor was I all that aware of this film was even about, doing my best to let the initial trailer and as few plot details as possible in the process of finding somewhere to watch it stand on their own. I don’t normally allow myself the opportunity to go into a film blind, but I have to admit, this is one hell of a film to go into knowing as little as possible.

Purely based on their efforts here, I get the feeling that Benson and Moorhead are names I’ll need to keep an eye out for going ahead because the film craft here is on some next-level shit. For a story all about time travel by way of recreational drug use, Moorhead’s cinematography fits the bill in its muted trippiness, along with some of the best visual effects work I’ve seen all year in showing the bleeding effect of the trips in question. Bonus points for the use of God’s Eye View perspective, using overhead drone shots to further the existentialism at the film’s core.

From that sturdy production standpoint, the acting from leads Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan makes for easily their best respective work. Dornan has never sounded more natural with an American accent, and Mackie as the self-described ‘armchair physicist’ (a name that basically describes every stoner ever, fittingly for the narrative) is equally natural in his sense of humour and his amateur scientist approach to time travel. To say nothing of them together, with some exceptional chemistry and real camaraderie that helps anchor how their friendship is basically what ties the entire film together. Outside of drug trips that’d make Timothy Leary go sober, that is.

While the film’s intersection of time travel theorising and philosophical musings could easily fall into the realms of stoner babble for some… well, if you’ve read my work for any length of time, you should know by now how much I’m absolutely fine with that. The setting admittedly helps keep things lucid, using the rich history of New Orleans (from Katrina to the War of 1812 to the Ice Age) to dissect an awful lot of ideas. Ideas like how racism echoes through time in people’s actions and attitudes, how death makes a person hyper-aware of their present, and how time travel cinema has been a predominantly white affair that has managed to hand-wave away the fact that… well, the past wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses.

Not that the film gets too hung-up on comparing then to now, or even now to what comes next. Instead, it takes a more ‘life for the moment’ attitude, boiling down to how, for all the shitty things that have already happened (and are still happening), just as many, if not more, good things must’ve happened for this present to even exist in the first place. “The present is a miracle”, to quote Mackie’s Steve. It’s a form of poignancy I can’t say I was expecting from this, but mainly because the film’s other stances on time and random chance felt rather obvious to me. I mean, thinking that time doesn’t work the way we think it does and that the world is just a big ball of completely random occurrences? I know I’m not the only one who’s been under that impression over the last two years.

A combination of Bringing Out The Dead’s first-hand perspective on the end of life and a Shane Carruth-esque approach to science fiction, Synchronic deals in a lot of heady ideas and possibilities while keeping it all grounded in real human drama. With some genuinely impressive visuals, and a mixture of acting and writing that never failed to put a smile on my face or a tear in my eye, it may turn away audiences who like their movies to be more straight-forward, but should draw in the right crowd with equal magnetism.

Gotta be honest, though; the notion that this is supposedly Benson/Moorhead’s most normal film has got me anxiously curious about whatever in the fuck they come up with next.

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