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Thread: SYNCHRONIC (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead 2019) - limited theatrical release tomorrow

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SYNCHRONIC (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead 2019) - limited theatrical release tomorrow



    Time travel via pleasure pill

    "Look, it's got to be me. It's the pineal gland. Your pineal gland is old as shit. It's literally impossible for you." What is this about, you say? This is Steve (Anthony Mackie) talking to Dennis (Jamie Dornan). They are best buddies and work together as New Orleans paramedics, in the course of which they find a new designer drug pill called Synchronic whose distinctive little black and white plastic sachet they are starting to find near people who have been harmed, bitten by a snake, mutilated, or even disappeared, some apparently stabbed with archaic weapons; and Steve finds a torn antique coin in one house and pockets it. It turns out Dennis' college-age daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who has disappeared, took the drug at a party before doing so. They think maybe Synchronic induces 7-minute periods of time travel in its takers. The effects are emerging as so clearly dangerous the drug's maker has himself been tracking down and purging the world of Synchronic. But Steve comes upon a small store of them at a head shop and starts taking them, hoping somehow by doing so that he can get his friend's daughter back.

    The reasons why this story doesn't completely work in the movie are numerous, though the actors are engaging and some of the "past" recreations are ingenious. The directors, Benson and Moorhead, have built their cred with the oddball mind benders Spring a(2014) nd The Endless (2017). Now they've embarked on something a bit more mainstream. This bigger budget film gives its focus away earlier and features two stars who engage in more jovial camaraderie. Their bond - as in other Moorhead and Benson films (see Richard Whittaker's sympathetic and knowledgeable Austin Chronicle review) - is the engine that holds everything together. This being a salt and pepper buddy picture, and Anthony Mackie, who is black, being the time traveler, the film considers how going back into the southern past might very well be a lot riskier for a black person. All in all, While this may not be up to Endless or even to Spring, Benson and Moorhead have by no means not sold out, and the star-quality charisma and good looks of its leads, especially Mackie, are shown to good advantage.

    A lot of slick trash plays around with time travel as a theme. Such tales always skirt the edge of plausibility. But time travel is risky, serious stuff. The ideal models for time-travel movies are arguably, offbeat and oddball, such as "the most 'realistic' (and complicated) " one, Shane Carruth's Primer (2004), and Richard Kelly's cult movie Donnie Darko (2001). It's coming about through a designer drug in this movie is a risky idea. It may seem too frivolous for the philosophical pondering in the dialogue. One may wonder that the drug is packaged with a name alluding to time, if the maker did not know it had a time-warping effect. (Or did he?) It was meant to be a form of synthetic ayahuasca.

    Anyway, Steve takes home his stash of Sychronic doses and begins filming what he calls his "experiments," each "experiment" consisting in taking another Synchronic pill in different conditions and seeing what happens during its brief effectiveness. One of the times he takes along his dog, Hawking. Unfortunately Hawking doesn't make it back - which casts doubt on Steve's bringing back Brianna, whom he isn't making progress toward finding. He does run into some colorful characters, both prehistoric as well as antique. Each time-trip takes him to a period in the exact spot where he takes the pill. His visits include conquistadors, slave owners and a murderous Creole mob, among others. These "experiments" are where Benson and Moorhead get their native vibe going. The peculiarity of his home-video-ing and talking to himself have some of the DIY charm and authenticity of their previous work, and of Primer. Since "sensible" people tend not to believe in this kind of stuff, it makes sense that only a solitary fumbler would come up with actual evidence of time traveling, if such there may be. Or so we, fed up with slick unconvincing sci-fi blockbusters, may be inclined to feel.

    Steve quotes from memory a letter Einstein wrote to a deceased friend's wife saying, "People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." Steve got into being an "armchair physicist" earlier, not any equations, just lots of theories and stuff. Maybe he should have done the equations. The theories depend on them. But does it matter? Whatever works in the DIY mode. Steve, of course, already has little to lose and everything to give. Steve is an outsider, with no wife, no girlfriend, and Dennis is not just his best but nearly his only friend. This makes his finding Brianna, his de facto niece, an act of duty and compassion that will redeem his life. Thus Benson and Moorhead have made a sci-fi/horror movie about friendship, love, duty, and dying well. And the pineal gland.

    Synchronic, 104 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2019 and showed in at least nine other festivals (listed on IMDb) since then. It releases in selected theaters in the US tomorrow, October 23, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-23-2020 at 01:32 AM.


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