Synchronic (2020)

Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef

Throughout their filmography, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have tackled fantastic ideas head-on, grounding their wonderous imagination with believable relationships worth investing in. A starrier cast has assembled for their fourth feature, yet this has not sacrificed their directorial trademarks.

The story follows Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), long-time friends who work together as New Orleans paramedics. An early scene shows them responding to a call, unfolding in a technically impressive manner that's shot to resemble a single-take. They try to help a dying couple, one from a stab-wound, and the other from an overdose, in spite of the baffling signs. Emblazoned across the wall is the term "Time is a Lie", and the weapon used in the stabbing turns out to be an ancient sword.

Laying in the pair's paths are a series of horrific deaths, linked to a designer drug named Synchronic, whose effects include travelling through time. This is the perfect way to capture our characters fears, as they're fearful of time passing by, want it to stop, and numb the pain in whatever way they can. Steve has been forever looking for the one, miserable in his life of loneliness, and these feelings have been exacerbated by the diagnosis of a brain tumour. At the same time, Dennis is working through a strained marriage, and the knowledge that his daughter is about to leave them. With the dual leads sharing excellent chemistry, it's easy to believe in their long friendship, through the moments of bonding and clashes.

As the story unfolds, Steve gets wrapped into the mystery of Synchronic, and takes centre stage. It's an excellent showcase for Mackie's strengths, as he deftly brings the comedic timing, while never sacrificing his dramatic chops. It's unfortunate this comes at the expense of Dennis, who is wonderfully portrayed by Dornan, but feels forgotten about by the story. The focus lays on Steve reckoning with the difficulties of time-travel, and how his skin-colour affects that, which is an interesting element the sub-genre doesn't tend to touch upon. This makes way for an interesting topic, but leaves it at a comedic line decrying Back to the Future, which feels like missed potential. It's an odd point in a tale which has such clear stakes, yet oddly has a lacking sense of urgency. Thankfully, this doesn't detract the sheer creativity on display, and the giddiness at wondering where the directors shall go next.

Synchronic is available at Video on Demand services from 29th January