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SYNCHRONIC ****

 

Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead.
Starring Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton.

Science-fiction, U.S., 96 minutes

 

From Signature Entertainment.  Reviewed as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest, Glasgow.

 

 

Kicking off this year's FrightFest Glasgow, SYNCHRONIC set out a surprisingly heartfelt tone that made its presence felt a number of times throughout the weekend. With the writing and directing pair of Benson and Moorehead in attendance, their reflective, candid and emotional Q&A came after a film that puts a neat spin on a sci-fi concept mixed up with a meditative look at middle age and mortality.

 

Set in New Orleans, SYNCHRONIC tells the tale of two paramedics caught up in a spate of mysterious deaths that soon become linked with a designer drug. Far from causing a simple case of overdose the drug actually helps its users randomly slip through time. The paramedics Steve and Dennis, played respectively by Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan, caught up in their own personal troubles brought on by middle age, are soon jolted into action when events involving the drug hit the pair sideways.

 

For a film involving time travelling designer drugs this is the most accessible and straight forward film yet from Benson and Moorehead. The ambition still exists in providing a genre film with their distinctive emotional take on relationships that has been a prominent feature in their previous films. Taking a look at the regrets that set in for middle aged men in how they have lived their lives may seem like an odd fit to the film's storyline as described here. However the pair of performances from Mackie and Dornan meld the scripts plot and themes together in a way that feels entirely natural. Mortality and the realisation of perhaps the wrong decisions being made at a younger age come into play in a nicely honest and humorous way here.

 

The duo of Mackie and Dornan have never been better. Best known for the massively popular Marvel and Fifty Shades franchises that have made them recognizable figures in the pop culture landscape over the last decade, they relax into their on screen buddy relationship with a charming ease. The opportunity of these two stars taking centre stage in such an offbeat film is a rare one and a pleasure to watch. Dornan, who it seems has never been given the chance to play anything else than kink obsessed creeps, gives his warmest performance yet showing what he is capable of but Mackie gives career best work here. Funny when he needs to be, “The past fucking sucks!”, he is also tasked with what is, hopefully for all our sakes, one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the year.

 

Lacking the cosmic and Lovecraftian aspects of their previous works this may feel like Benson and Moorehead’s least ambitious film. In terms of execution however it is slickly directed and this new directors cut deals with certain situations in a more ambiguous manner than before. Links to the previous films are hidden within, providing not only a glimpse of their own cinematic shared universe for their already existing fans but the reassurance that they have not abandoned the unique mind bending details and story beats that have made their name. Big in ideas and successful in execution, SYNCHRONIC is yet another shining example of the low budget genre scene and the new exciting steps it is taking in this new decade we have barely got into. Bigger in scope it shows that we may just be beginning to see what this unique writing/directing duo are capable of as they make their way into the mainstream.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

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