Have you ever heard of the pineal gland? Apparently, it’s a part of the human brain not fully understood by science, and in some circles, it’s referred to as “the third eye”. While that may not be the most in-depth scientific explanation of that particular bit of biology, it is probably enough to help navigate the “sci” portion of sci-fi thriller Synchronic. It’s more McGuffin than medial prefrontal cortex in this example, but that doesn’t make it less integral to the plot.
The story of Synchronic centres around two paramedics, Steve and Dennis, with very different lifestyles who begin to see a number of cases of gruesome overdoses and injuries linked by a designer drug named Synchronic. However, when Steve is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour he becomes withdrawn, straining the relationship with his partner. When Dennis’ 18-year-old daughter Brianna goes missing and Synchronic is found at the scene, Steve attempts to buy up all of the supply of Synchronic, only to begin down a path that bends the fabric of time and space to try and bring Brianna back.
While Synchronic may not have been a film on everyone’s radar, the cast is actually very impressive. Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan are both big names with plenty of star power, while Kate Aselton will be known to many viewers from numerous indie movies and as Jenny in the popular sitcom The League. Although the performances do vary in quality. Mackie is his usual dependable self, and anchors the film brilliantly, while Dornan does his best in a role that doesn’t really offer him the opportunity to stretch his thespian muscles too far. Disappointingly, the very capable Aselton feels marginalised for much of the film when a larger role beyond that of the caring wife to Dennis could really have added more depth to proceedings. It’s a small gripe given much of Synchronic is focused on Mackie, but there certainly feels like there was scope to add more nuance by making use of Aselton rather than reducing her to a one-dimensional supporting role.
From the film’s opening, the tone and feel of Synchronic is definitely unsettling and it’s a credit to directors Aaron Moorhead and Justine Benson that they create such an underlying dread and otherworldliness from the outset. Every shot seems to have a fuzzy feel to it, like something is just slightly off. It’s not a bold or overt effect, but it does enough to create an uneasy element to everything that happens. The special effects budget was clearly not enormous, but it’s compensated for by clever use of video cameras in a found footage-style to make up for any aesthetic issues with the more ambitious effects shots. All of this is underscored (or just scored as it were) by a tremendous soundtrack that relies heavily on synth and really ups the ante in terms of the dread factor. It wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Carpenter horror film, which should be taken as a hue compliment.
Synchronic was a pleasant surprise, with a strong cast and an unusual feel. It stops just short of attempting anything too ridiculous or mind-bending while still exploring time travel via a unique and fairly innovative method. While it may have a lack of buzz, possibly hamstrung by the absence of a cinema release for obvious reasons, but don’t sleep on Synchronic, especially if you enjoy a slow-burn sci-fi thriller.