It’s always interesting to watch directors move into the mainstream. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have created three excellent low-budget indies, including Spring (2014) and The Endless – brainy genre films with cult appeal. They’ve recently been announced as co-directors of Marvel’s new series Moon Knight, starring Oscar Isaac, which puts them in the same category as the likes of Chloé Zhao and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who have similarly gone from indie cred to comic book success.
In the interim, Benson and Moorhead have made Synchronic, a film that feels like a step-up in scale from their earlier work and surely represents a stepping-stone to their upcoming Marvel project. It stars Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie (a Marvel alumni himself, having played Sam Wilson / Falcon in the Avengers movies). Dornan is Dennis and Mackie is Steve, two paramedics working in the less salubrious parts of a place called Crescent City (it was shot in New Orleans), a town where half the residents seem to be on drugs.
As they gradually discover, the drug-of-choice is Synchronic, a designer narcotic culled from a rare flower that has some unusual side effects. To reveal all would constitute a spoiler – though not a major one – but suffice it to say, the drug has physics-bending properties that not so much opens the doors of perception as smash them down with a bloody great broadsword.
The personal thru line here comes as Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) takes the drug and disappears. Where is she? That’s to be discovered, with Steve offering to help in any way he can. The visual effects are quite something, given Synchronic has clearly been made on a modest budget, as locations seem to melt into one another. The grim atmosphere and grimy settings are also well used too, lending the film an almost dystopian quality.
You may be reminded of Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, another (more realistic) film about paramedics haunted by the job, although Benson and Moorhead’s movie stops short of offering up the convincing characterisation seen there. Synchronic doesn’t quite have the emotional gravitas you’d like, perhaps, but it recognises the world it comes from, even making neat nods to Back To The Future (Mackie’s dog is the spitting image of the canine in that movie), Now the Benson/Moorhead bandwagon rumbles onto Marvel. What they do on a big budget will be fascinating.
Synchronic is available on demand from 29 January. For more details, click here.
Words: James Mottram