Synchronic (2019)

*. I was looking forward to this one so it was, naturally, a disappointment. I keep forgetting the lesson in that.
*. Things go off the rails quickly and completely with the premise: a new synthetic drug called Synchronic affects the pineal gland in such a way that people taking it (young people, without calcified pineal glands) go back in time.
*. This is a bit of a Romantic nonsense that I think even the most determined contemporary Cartesian might fairly balk at. Note what I am saying here. It’s not that the people who take Synchronic have hallucinations about traveling to the past. No, they really go back in time. It is a time travel drug. You can even take things with you on your “trip,” and bring objects back. Neat!
*. The creative team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead try to give the idea some spurious scientific scaffolding during their DVD commentary. Apparently they were influenced by Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos and say that there is some speculation about how time past and time future are always present, but then admit that they don’t know of any way to access this state of synchronicity. More to the point though, the drug should only be able to alter one’s perception of time, which is something entirely different. Whatever the essential nature of the universe may be, we don’t experience time as a steady state and there’s no possible way ingesting a pill could lead the results we see here.
*. At which point you may be inclined to say, “Well, it’s a science fiction film and it’s no sillier than a DeLorean time machine.” Except it is sillier than a DeLorean time machine, and in a movie that is, at least tonally, more serious.
*. I might have been able to swallow all of the drug stuff, but things proceeded to get even more far-fetched. Even given the basic premise new questions kept popping up. Why should slight changes in one’s location when taking the drug vary the leap in time so dramatically? Sit on the couch when you pop a pill and you go meet some conquistadors. Stand-up and you’re sent back to the ice age. I thought this was all being done through the pineal gland.
*. I also didn’t understand why Steve was being so thick. Given the fact that every time anyone goes back in time they are met by people who immediately try to kill them (or seem to be trying to kill them), why doesn’t he take a first aid kit? Or a gun? I’d be loaded for bear! Also, why does he risk the life of his best friend (that is his dog, Hawking) just to show that you can go day-tripping with living things? Couldn’t he have literally taken a guinea pig and stuck it in his pocket?
*. Listening to the commentary did help to partially explain a couple of other points that stumped me. In the first place: why can’t they jump forward in time, seeing as all time is eternally present? Answer: It’s probably not possible for some technical reason, and anyway perhaps you can. The first trips taken by the couple in the hotel room may be into a post-apocalyptic future. Second question: why is the past such a hostile place, with everyone trying to kill you as soon as you arrive? Answer: Because they think you’re a ghost! Well, I don’t think these are great answers, but they do at least address those two issues.
*. The story they hang on this isn’t very compelling. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are New Orleans paramedics who notice a bunch of strange deaths occurring among drug users. Steve finds out about Synchronic at the same time as Dennis’s daughter takes a trip and is hence lost in time. Steve, however, is trebly expendable, being single, recently diagnosed with cancer, and Black so he uses the few remaining Synchronic pills in existence to go back and rescue her. Which sounds good as a pitch, but it never engaged me very much. I just didn’t care about Dennis and his kid in the first place.
*. Mackie and Dornan should be a more engaging pair of leads, but Steve is a downbeat kind of guy and Dennis oddly sullen as well. Dornan seemed to me to be worried about getting his accent right, which may be partially due to the fact that he had a cold throughout shooting and apparently had trouble hearing his own voice. On the other hand, the paramedics I’ve met have all tended to be kind of low-key types, which probably helps in their job. What the movie needs, however, is a greater sense of urgency.
*. Even as a puzzle picture it doesn’t satisfy. There are a lot of movies these days that take a perverse delight in confusing audiences, so much so that they need “explainer” videos posted about them online. It’s also a cheap way of getting people to see them twice. But though Mark Kermode thought this to be “Tenet-lite” I didn’t find the questions it raised to be intriguing so much as just dumb, or not worth bothering with. Who scratched the “Allways” on the rock? Does it matter? (Answer: They deliberately left that point ambiguous, but a joke deleted scene included with the DVD offers one explanation.)
*. So I have to mark this one down as a disappointment. There are more interesting time-portal movies out there, better thought out and better made (Timecrimes, for example, or Coherence did more with even less in the way of budget). Despite the real talent involved, nothing about Synchronic stands out as being very special and it never lands any punches. Not a bad little indie, but I was expecting something more.

22 thoughts on “Synchronic (2019)

    1. Alex Good

      It did have a nice look, but felt really glum and restrained. Plus I just couldn’t get behind the idea of a time-travel pill. That had me going “Wait, what?”

    1. Alex Good

      Nah, that guy’s all soft. “An initially intriguing time travel story”? Compare the present author’s far more accurate: “Things go off the trails quickly and completely with the premise.” I should do one of those Masterclass programs where I teach this stuff.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        It’s interesting that no-one asks you, and you live like a hermit, peeing through your knee-length beard, your ramblings of interest to no-one, an obscurity in your own life, not even a household name in your own house-hold. One day, I hope to be able to reach down and pull you up to the level of mediocrity to which you have dreamt, but for now, the gap is simply too large.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        I quite enjoy being a hermit online. Being a recluse in the current cultural moment is no small achievement. I think the world would be a better place if everyone cultivated a little more obscurity.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        I think the world would be a better place if we had cast iron promises that you would remain an obscurity. but there’s always a risk that you will slip your manacles and career like a capering loon into a populated area. I for one would be willing to contribute to a fund to maintain your obscurity. but having read your scribblings, it’s hardly required, since no-one is likely to bother reading such inert, purile efforts.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Purile. To think that the once-proud institutions of Scottish higher education ended thusly. Not with a bang but an emoji.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        If it’s good enough for De Quincey, hahah, but I did look up the more modern puerile in the dictionary and there’s just a big picture of you and it says silly, pointless, see under ‘Alex Good’ Hahahhahahhah!

  1. Bookstooge

    nothing about Synchronic stands out as being very special and it never lands any punches

    I feel this way about most movies. Probably helps explain my reaction to them as a whole.

  2. Tom Moody

    Benson/Moorhead’s companion films Resolution and The Endless merit a watch for their blending of media investigation, temporal weirdness, The Occult, and humor. I skipped this one because the drug/hallucination theme seemed less interesting — I didn’t realize we were dealing with actual time travel, which does seem like a stretch. The pineal gland worked for Lovecraft — in the 1930s — but by the time it sprouted from Jeffrey Combs’ forehead it was pretty well exhausted as a plot device.

  3. Tom Moody

    I watched The Endless (2017) first and realized later that The Resolution (2012) is an earlier tangent in the same universe with some of the same characters. I recommend seeing The Resolution first if you can find it.

  4. Tom Moody

    I watched this last night and my complaint is — why go to the trouble of making an “indie” film if it has the same messages as mainstream films? Family is good, live for the moment, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Also the philandering, substance-abusing black dude sacrifices himself to save his white friend’s traditional family unit. The tone perks up briefly when Steve starts experimenting with the video camera but mostly it’s lugubrious. I like the directors’ crosscutting multimedia style but it seems wasted on such a conventional moral.

    1. Alex Good

      I’m with you. I wonder that about a lot of indie films. But I think the thinking is that you still have to have some commercial success if you want to make another picture, so there’s always that imperative. I also thought about the Black guy sacrificing himself to save the white family, but was thinking if the roles had been reversed it might have been just as bad, with Dornan as the white saviour. So in the end I don’t know what else they could have done. I’m assuming the script didn’t explicitly register them as a mixed-race buddies and it just came down to casting. Still, it does feel like a cliché. And very much agree with the lugubrious feel. It really needed a jolt at some point. The trips to the past were all pretty dull.


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