Sitges Review: Benson & Moorhead's Clever Sci-Fi Film 'Synchronic'
by Alex Billington
October 15, 2019
There's nothing like a Benson & Moorhead film. These two indie filmmakers have been working together since 2012, launching with their first feature film Resolution. They followed that up with Spring in 2014, then The Endless in 2017, both excellent features. And now they're ready with another new film - this one titled Synchronic. Out of all of their films, this one is a bit more "commercial" than their others, but still as intricately crafted. At some point we just need to start admitting that Benson & Moorhead are some of the best sci-fi / genre filmmakers cooking up some of the most original projects these days, I mean goddamn these guys rule. Everything they make is outstanding. If you can see Synchronic without knowing anything else about it, go see it that way first. It is always the best way to experience every Benson & Moorhead film.
The only thing I can (or want to) tell you about Synchronic at this point, is that it's a must watch for anyone who enjoys sci-fi, or anyone who loves time travel. The film is about two best friends who work as EMTs in an ambulance down in New Orleans. Jamie Dornan stars as Dennis, and Anthony Mackie stars as Steve. They're both stressed, about life and the job, but that's normal. Things start to get weird when they discover people who have died in very strange ways. When they start to look closer, they notice there's a recreational drug nearby called "Synchronic" that seems to be connected to these strange deaths. When a family member disappears, the two of them end up diving full-on into trying to figure out how to solve this peculiar mystery and make sense of this weird time travel drug. I won't say anything more since I don't want to spoil any of it.
I really, really enjoyed this film - as a sci-fi geek especially, but also as just a movie lover. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Synchronic is an excellent little time travel film that breaks mold of what's expected, gives us something totally fresh and new, and is an engaging thriller right up to the end. I love all the cosmic hints that make it extra fascinating and mystical. I am seriously impressed by so much of it - the editing especially is incredible, pulls you in even more into the film. It's hard to imagine how anyone can re-invent or try something new with time travel, and while many try, few succeed. Synchronic is one of the few films that succeeds in approaching time travel in a brand new way - breaking some rules of what we expect, how it should work, but also giving us something exciting and fascinating to think about well after the film is over.
Benson & Moorhead's films are all intricately built around raw, realistic emotions and lived-in interpersonal relationships between characters. That's where they start and that's a core strength that is necessary. Then they build up the rest of the story around that, throwing in twists to the usual genre tropes, and challenging viewers by going the opposite way and bringing in fresh ideas that no one has seen before. Synchronic's use of this recreational drug as the time travel mechanism is rather brilliant - simple in concept but intriguing in execution. I just wanted them to push it further. Maybe it was a budgetary limitation, or maybe it was their plan to keep the film minimal. Right when it's getting good, they pull back and streamline the next major developments. I know they can pull off more, this just felt like they were holding back for whatever reason.
Nonetheless, it's still an impressive film - a worthy new addition to the time travel sci-fi subgenre. And it's a captivating film that can be discussed in-depth once you see it, whether that be with friends or with other folks online. There's plenty to dig into here. And hopefully discussions will encourage Benson & Moorhead to keep making more original films, to keep telling stories their way in order to make their mark on cinema.
Alex's Sitges 2019 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing