For their fourth feature effort, filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead continue a predilection for subverting well-worn genres with Synchronic, an off-kilter take on the time travel film. But as fascinating as the core premise is, the execution leaves a little to be desired.

The central conceit, which gets teased out for much of the first half before being fully explained, concerns an experimental drug people are buying at gas stations that sets certain users out of sync in time. To work, however, the person who takes it has to have a specific thalamic shape, so it only affects young people, like paramedic Dennis (Jamie Dornan)’s pregnant daughter, who takes it and disappears into the timestream. Well, and someone like Dennis’ Lothario partner Steve (Anthony Mackie), who has just been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that affects the same part of his brain.

The part of this picture dedicated to Steve risking his life and testing out the drug to save his best friend’s kid works remarkably well, balancing some basic comedy with genuine thrills and sharp use of special effects. Synchronic is not a particularly expensive film, but Benson and Moorhead have some experience ringing maximum production value from their projects. The visual flair inherent to transporting a man from his apartment’s living room to the Cro-Magnon era isn’t the easiest thing to pull off on such a small budget, but there’s an immersion to the techniques employed here that feels special.

Unfortunately the directors, in an attempt to develop a pensive, plaintive pace, take entirely too long to get to that point, and even once that begins, linger too long on the quiet family drama of Dennis and his wife (Katie Aselton) coping with the potential loss of their child. It’s interesting that Benson and Moorhead seem equally excited by the domestic elements of the story as they are by the genre stuff, but it gives the impression of watching two separate movies, each needing a little of the other to function, but not striking the necessary balance.

There’s something truly relatable and compelling about Dennis and Steve’s friendship, largely thanks to Dornan and Mackie’s chemistry, even if their dynamic of a jaded family man jealous of his secretly lonely ladies’ man pal is more than a little rote. Synchronic is able to tap into something primal about taking the present for granted and living in the past or imaginary futures, but its finishing stretch, though thrilling, cements those themes in too dull a fashion to fully resonate.

This, unfortunately, is another Covid-19 theatrical casualty that won’t get as many eyeballs on the big screen as its creators would have hoped for, but whose overall quality seems better suited to the world of VOD. At home, its shortcomings feel less like deal-breakers than they might if the viewer traveled any further than their couch to see it.

Summary
Benson and Moorhead seem equally excited by the domestic elements of the story as they are by the genre stuff, but it gives the impression of watching two separate movies, each needing a little of the other to function, but not striking the necessary balance.
62 %
Sincere sci-fi
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