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Review: Synchronic – “They make the standard and mundane seem brand spanking new”

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Synchronic was my most anticipated film of 2020. It turns out my instinct was right.

As soon as Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (The Endless) were robbed of the cinema release they richly deserve, I sat and played the waiting game. Which I’m universally terrible at. “Just release it!”, I’d scream at night, as I awoke from a night terror, realising cinemas really were shut.

Of all of the films delayed, surely this one could drop on VOD and start getting some cash — and content! — back out to the ones that deserved it most. Robbed of cinemas, desperately trying to recreate that buzz at home, I sat rocking in a chair waiting.

More so than I waited for Bond. Or any Marvel. This is the one.

It wasn’t to be of course and Synchronic finally landed on USiTunes this week, with a U.K release at the very end of January.

The fact I couldn’t wait two more weeks tells you everything you need to know about their back catalogue.

The first thing that hits is the score. Unsettling & ethereal. Then, a tracking shot behind the ambulance — with the superb Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan inside — just feels… off. This is what Benson and Moorhead specialise in. So much of what’s gone before has the vibe of something otherworldly. They somehow manage to make the fairly standard and mundane seem brand spanking new.

An overhead shot of the same ambulance harked back to the fantastic aerial shots in Candyman. No doubt assisted by the haunting score. You’re not sure what you’re watching… horror? Thriller? Time bending sci-fi?

An opening drug trip gone wrong reinforces the unreliable atmosphere. A couple in a cheap motel take some pills. Confusion caused as people start to come out of hotel room walls, screaming, but with no sound coming out. It’s arresting.

For the most part, Mackie & Dornan are a response team, who are on a run of responding to victims, that have unexplained deaths. Next to most, an opened packet, labelled: ‘Synchronic’. To say anything else would be to ruin what follows. Which really does deliver on what feels like years of delays.

The thing that distances this from anything is how assured it all is. For a jump in budget, they just don’t flinch. One early response call has some fantastic camera work. Moving around the apartment, until we ultimately end up looking at the murder weapon. Then, during a tense exchange, the camera just moves between Dornan and his suffering wife. Left to right. Right to left. This is what they do. Human drama, at the centre of mind-bending visuals {one shot leaves the New Orleans street, up to the sky, before bending backwards to stare at the stars}.

Another had Dornan playing golf in a deserted car park. In the background, the sky looks like it’s straight out of the Twilight Zone and then you get a crack of lighting. Another, sees day turn to night in the space of 5 seconds, with the sun again turning that ominous blue.

I could go on and on and on.

It’s all building tension and mystery. Focus on frayed relationships and quiet character moments, as much as startling imagery and set pieces. No doubt this is bigger budget and scale, but Benson & Moorhead keep their discipline superbly well.

As we start to learn more about these pills and what they’re capable of, there is a lot to take in. This could have sprawled well over two hours. But again, the duo demonstrates restraint & confidence. Well below two hours, the film is lean.

I started to think of how well it would work as a TV series — but now they’re off to work for Marvel, I think/fear their real challenge of remaining authentic truly starts.

‘Resolution’, ‘Spring’ & ‘The Endless’ are — once again — all essential rewatches.

All carrying the same themes of time and, ultimately, making the most of it. That the present can ground us/you. That there’s meaning in the things we/you do. No day but today. Always.

Although I wish it was twice as long, fully fleshing out its ideas and themes — I admire the consistency of their approach. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel anything at the very end. There’s some heavy stuff going on, so the constant laughs (mainly from the rapport between the two leads), is much needed.

I can’t wait to rewatch it and the thought of knowing there are several versions that toured the film festival circuits, makes me salivate.

Well worth a trip.

SYNCHRONIC will now release in select UK cinemas January 29th and home premiere from February 12th.

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