It’s a shame that genre movies don’t get the same respect as films grounded in reality. Horror, fantasy, and sci-fi make life’s bitter truths more palatable by coating them with sugar. A genre flick’s premise creates distance from prickly realities we struggle to embrace, topics like privilege, inequality, and our own mortality.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s surreal new thriller Synchronic uses a fantastic sci-fi premise to discuss some of life’s greatest questions. The end result is a dark and trippy sci-fi-mystery that challenges its audience with difficult questions.
Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan ) are two lifelong friends who work together as paramedics in New Orleans. Working the night shift in New Orleans means these two guys have had more than their share of wild encounters. But they realize something isn’t right when they come across a series of hideous deaths that are bizarre, even for a couple of EMTs working the night shift in New Orleans.
When Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing, Steve discovers a link between her disappearance, the string of grisly deaths, and a mysterious new designer drug that hit the streets.
Synchronic isn’t a traditional horror movie, but it’s as haunting and anxiety-inducing as any monster movie or slasher flick I’ve seen in ages. A straight-up thriller hasn’t stirred up so much unease in me since Karyn Kusama’s 2018 crime-drama Destroyer.
Jimmy LaValle’s chilling score helps maintain Synchronic’s pervasive sense of dread. The slow, bass-heavy synths and buzzing electronic drawl intensify the unsettling cinematography (shot by co-director Moorhead). Moorhead’s drifting camera doesn’t just photograph the action; it keeps you unsettled because it feels like an ominous presence. The camera creeps through scenes like a roving spirit. It leers, sways, and untethers itself from the actors to perch high in the sky like an all-seeing deity.
Most scenes take place at night and in claustrophobic, dimly lit rooms. And much of the film takes on a nightmarish quality. As Dennis and Steve arrive at their first crime scene, the camera creeps from room to room like a spectre. Its languid gaze slower than cold molasses as it tilts and pans, lingering on the gruesome carnage instead of the dark corners hiding potential unseen threats.
It’s hard to discuss Synchronic’s plot and themes without revealing spoilers. So, I’ll make some broad points about the film. The movie has elements of the gritty serial killer flicks from the ‘90s but with heady sci-fi elements – Steve names his dog Hawking, which hints at where the story might head.
Synchronic considers life’s biggest questions; it interrogates love, friendship, regret, grief, and mortality in compelling ways. Sure, most films tackle these same concepts, but nothing helps viewers process these weighty themes like a well-crafted genre movie. We intuitively get that every moment that passes brings us closer to death. But how many people take time out of their day to ponder their own mortality?
With a healthy perspective, the looming threat of death can lead to a mindful life of dignity, purpose, and appreciation. One can either drown under a sea of existential dread or focus on the beauty which exists in each precious moment. Synchronic shows us the difference between these two paths.
Benson and Moorhead plunge viewers into a woozy existential nightmare to deliver a message that is at once bleak and beautiful.