Synchronic is one of those tricky movies which isn’t really about what you think it’s about, and what you think it’s about is infinitely less interesting than what it’s really about. But to discuss what it’s really about is an arguable spoiler (in a second-act reveal kinda way), even though that would be the best way to recommend it. Still, we’ll do our spoiler-avoiding best…
On the surface, this is a cautionary tale of the designer-drugs biz, where a deadly new narcotic synthesised from a “rare pink flower” hits the Louisiana head shop market and rapidly claims victims. The ‘all drugs are bad’ angle is hardly enticing, while we’ve been prescribed improbable, sci-fi narcotics before by the likes of _Limitless_and](https://www.empireonline.com/movies/limitless/) Lucy. But indie writer-director Justin Benson, co-directing with Aaron Moorhead, gives the subgenre a wittily executed, Nolan-esque twist, which is less about bending minds than bending physics.
The clues are seeded from the start. The film opens with a young woman in a hotel room coming up on Synchronic and hallucinating a snake attack. Later, paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) find her with puncture wounds in her leg and venom in her bloodstream. Meanwhile, the apparent stabbing of a Synchronic-head by his junkie girlfriend is complicated by the realisation that the murder weapon is a heavily corroded, antique sword. Then Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) takes the drug and vanishes, giving the pair a very personal, friendship-testing stake in solving this murky meta-mystery.
It’s one of those films which you should see as soon as you can, before enjoying long, spoiler-filled conversations
At this point it is Mackie who takes the lead, driven by the discovery that he has a terminal brain tumour. With nothing to lose, he starts necking the pill himself and explores its astonishing and highly dangerous effects via a video diary. It is during these scenes, when the psychedelic Trojan horse bursts open and the film’s true genre is confirmed, that it really lifts off. Not merely through the compelling revelation of its buried plot mechanisms and narrative logic, but also thanks to Steve’s dry-humoured observations, delivered with deadpan panache by Mackie. These not only pull in a few cheeky film references, but also make a really interesting social point; as a Black man in the United States, this particular ‘fantastic’ journey is far less of an adventure for Steve than an exasparating ordeal.
Occasionally, the high concept is let down by the limitations of the film’s low, low budget, though this never entirely depreciates Benson and Moorhead’s visual flair — for example, they background one scene with impressive cloud formations that resemble grooves on vinyl.
There’s a good reason for that little grace note, but we don’t want to say why. Which brings us back to the trickiness of a movie like this. Suffice to say, it’s one of those films which you should see as soon as you can, before enjoying long, spoiler-filled conversations about the fun and thought-provoking way it handles its true subject matter.