It never feels like we have enough time.
Set in the shadows of New Orleans, the new action-drama Synchronic follows paramedics and long-time friends Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (Jamie Dornan). Though both men seem to have their lives together, they soon find themselves in over their heads when they are called to a number of increasingly strange and grisly deaths which appear to be linked to a new drug called ‘Synchronic’. If that weren’t enough to deal with, Denube is soon after diagnosed with brain cancer, causing him to fall into a deep depression that opens the door for him to use the drug himself. However, in doing so, he soon discovers an unexpected side effect of Synchronic that seems to provide hope for the future, even if it lies in the past.
Written and directed by Justin Benson, Synchronic is a surprisingly engaging film that brings a new twist to the time-travel genre. Less Back to the Future and more The Butterfly Effect in its tone, Synchronic is a darker entry into the genre that leans more heavily into the trauma of loss than it does the fun of quantum leaping. Despite the fact that there are some items that move between eras, Benson opts to ignore most of the potential ramifications of time travel. (There’s no ‘Grey’s Sports Almanac’ or ‘Infinity Stone’ ripple effects in this film.) In doing so, Synchronic gives itself the freedom to use the device to reinforce the overall story’s themes and ideas without being bogged down by silliness that often comes with these stories. Instead, Benson uses the premise to focus on the present, as opposed to the past.
As the film’s heart, Mackie’s charm and charisma give an affability to Denube that comes through despite the pain that his character is experiencing. At the same time, Dornan excels in roles that have an aura of inner darkness and Dannelly’s heavy emotional burden provides ample opportunity for him to show his talent.
Somewhat surprisingly, Benson makes an interesting choice by linking time travel with drug use. Similar to the way in which addicts will use their respective vices to escape from the pain of reality, so too does Synchronic give users the option to return to a ‘simpler time’.
The problem is that the past offers no comfort either.
Though they may wish to flee their problems, Synchronic users usually find themselves in the most difficult eras of the past. Whether its fighting conquistadors, evading alligators or running from the KKK, those that take the drug seem to discover that the struggles of the past are no less traumatic than the present. In this way, the drug offers no solace for those who are running from the pain of their lives as it transports them to places in time that are no safer than what they were enduring already.
And that’s entirely the point.
By choosing to use time travel in this way, Syncronic is well aware of the fact that we can often become so wrapped up in the troubles of today that we think we are living in the worst period of human history. Instead, the film reminds us that each day has troubles of its own. This is probably best exemplified through the journey of Denube who becomes more aware of his relationship to the present the more he learns about how Synchronic works. Told that his brain cancer is likely terminal, Denube suffers from depression and an increasing inner rage. Crushed under the ticking clock of his condition, Denube realizes that time is not on his side.
However, as he spends more time in the past, he recognizes the importance of living for today. Though he understands that his life is coming to an end, he also comes to realize the value of the moments that he has right now, whether it’s celebrating the people that he loves or simply being grateful for his time on Earth. While the film fully acknowledges the pain of the present, Synchronic actually finds joy in the midst of trauma that many other films fail to recognize.
In other words, although the times we live in are not easy, there still remains things worth celebrating in the darkest of moments.
While the film is a bit of a slow starter, there’s a lot to like about Synchronic. Bolstered by engaging performances from its cast, the film’s creativity and commitment to the premise work well to be worth your time. Though the use of time travel is hardly original, Benson uses it in such a unique manner that it feels fresh in a lot of ways. Ultimately however, the most noteworthy aspect of the film lies is not just its ability to explore the past. It’s that it reminds us to find things worth rejoicing in the present.
When we can find a way to do that, time is always on our side.
Synchronic is now available on VOD, DVD and Blu-Ray.