October 24, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the sci-fi/horror film “Synchronic” has a predominantly white cast (with a some African Americans) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two paramedics who are best friends try to find out if a synthetic party drug has something to do with the disappearance of the teenage daughter of one of the men.
Culture Audience: “Synchronic” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend a mystery with compelling visuals representing other world dimensions.
“Synchronic” is a noteworthy thriller that’s has a tone that strikes an interesting balance between gritty noir and trippy psychedelic. That’s because the mystery in the movie revolves around a new hallucinogenic party drug called Synchronic that has infiltrated New Orleans and seems to be causing mysterious and gruesome deaths of people who take Synchronic. The movie has a very predictable ending, but the story is immersive, the acting is very good, and it’s worth checking out if people are interested in a well-paced and intriguing sci-fi/horror flick.
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, “Synchronic” (which was written by Benson) has a friendship between two paramedics at the heart of the story. Steve Denube (played by Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (played by Jamie Dornan) are two longtime best friends who work together as employees of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. And something strange has recently been going on in New Orleans when Steve and Dennis get called to the scenes of suspected drug overdoses.
In addition to the usual OD patients at these emergency scenes, they find people viciously murdered. Also found nearby are packets, which resemble condom packets, that have a Synchronic logo. At one druggie house, a woman has overdosed on heroin in the back room, while man has been stabbed to death by what appears to have been a 3-foot long sword. The two drugged-out witnesses in the house aren’t much help to the cops.
At an apartment building, a couple named Leah (played by Betsy Holt) and Travis (played by Shane Brady), who took Synchronic (which is a pill) both had different hallucinogenic experiences, which are shown at the beginning of the movie. Leah was on a bed and saw a snake come out from under the sheets and toward her. Travis went into an elevator and saw himself transported into a swamp area.
By the time the paramedics arrive, Leah is in a catatonic state with a snake bite, while Travis is dead in the elevator shaft with an eerie smile on his face. A fellow paramedic named Bob (played by Martin Bats Bradford) speculates that Leah was bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which hasn’t been seen in New Orleans for decades.
Another bizarre Synchronic incident happens when a man’s body that seems to have been completely burned by spontaneous human combustion is found at an amusement park, with empty packets of Synchronic near his body. Another man (played by Jean-Pierre Vertus), who’s dressed as a voodoo skeleton, is found babbly incoherently with a cackling laugh after he’s taken Synchronic. Steve and Dennis aren’t detectives, but they’re wondering what’s going on with this drug and why it’s linked to these unusual freak-outs, injuries and deaths.
During this mystery related to their job, Steve (who’s in his mid-40s) and Dennis (who’s in his late 30s) are each dealing with personal issues. Steve, who is a womanizing bachelor, has recently found out that he has a brain tumor, but he doesn’t tell Dennis about it right away. Dennis is stuck in a rut in his marriage to his wife Tara (played by Katie Aselton), who is dealing with the stress of working full-time and taking care of their 1-year-old daughter. Dennis and Tara also have a rebellious 18-year-old daughter named Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who is resisting Dennis’ pressure on her to go to college.
Steve is like a “cool uncle” to Brianna. At an outdoor picnic with several of Tara and Dennis’ friends, Steve sneaks a beer for Brianna to drink. She can open up and talk to Steve more than she can with her father. And when Brianna goes missing from a party where she’s taken Synchronic, Steve takes it upon himself to experiment with the drug to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“Synchronic” is the type of movie where almost everything looks gloomy, even during the daytime. Moorhead, who is also the movie’s cinematographer, infuses the movie with a lot of sepia and gray tones, to give a sense of doom throughout the entire story. Synchronic is not a “shiny, happy” drug, but one that induces terrifying scenarios that might be more than visions.
These visions almost always include someone or something attacking the person who’s taken the drug. And if the person who’s taken the drug gets out of this drug-induced trance, there is evidence from wounds or other injuries that the attack really happened. How exactly can Steve find Brianna by taking Synchronic? It’s explained in the movie.
Mackie and Dornan have a believable rapport as best friends Steve and Dennis, who have a the type of age-difference male friendship that isn’t seen to often in movies. There are some scenes in the movie that also realistically show the devastating impact that a missing child can have on a crumbling marriage. The stress of Brianna’s disappearance takes a major toll on Dennis and Tara.
The movie’s visual effects are convincing, but they’re not going to nominated for any major awards. What really drives the story in the last third of the film is how much involved Steve gets in investigating Brianna’s disappearance. And if you consider that Steve has a terminal illness, it’s easy to understand the motivations for a lot of what he does in the story. It’s that extra layer of a life in crisis that gives “Synchronic” an emotional urgency that’s portrayed in the story in a captivating way.
Well Go USA released “Synchronic” in select U.S. cinemas on October 23, 2020.