TIFF 2019 Review: Synchronic continues the genre-bending universe of directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson
Back in 2014, directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson brought their second feature film, Spring, to the Toronto International Film Festival where both the film and the directing duo embraced the moniker of “genre-bending.”
Five years later, Moorhead and Benson returned to the festival with their fourth feature Synchronic after their 2018 film, The Endless, was named by Rotten Tomatoes as being among the top 20 best-reviewed films of that year, and the most critically acclaimed genre film of 2018.
It’s difficult to discuss Synchronic without spoiling all the fun, but if you are a fan of their previous work, or if Synchronic is your first Moorhead and Benson experience, you will not be disappointed.
In the film, Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hurt Locker, We Are Marshall) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall) star as two New Orleans paramedics who encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug called Synchronic.
In a perfect storm of personal crises, their friendship and families are ripped apart by the mysterious pill’s bizarre effects as the two respond to a series of unexplainable emergencies – sword stabbings, impossible snake bites and mysteriously charred bodies.
For their part, Mackie and Dornan bring a sense of believability to their characters in which the viewer instantly believes that the two are not just co-workers, but very close friends who would do anything for each other – and as film progresses, this friendship is put to the test.
It’s the decision to make Mackie and Dornan paramedics instead of police officers in which Moorhead and Benson really flex their creative muscles. What could easily have become a police procedural quickly turns into something very different and unique. The fact that it’s not their job to investigate the mysterious happenings they are encountering – that they choose to investigate even though this puts them in harm’s way – really cements Synchronic in the Moorhead and Benson universe.
The film, written by Benson, disarms its protagonists by not giving them guns and a badge, but instead giving them curiosity and a drive to do what’s right – a sentiment echoed by the directors during the films Q&A when they spoke about their films and characters being optimistic even in the most grim of circumstances.
“It’s worth mentioning that there’s a little bit of ourselves in the film,” the directors shared. “We strongly believe nostalgia to be toxic and this film expresses how we tend to always be looking forward or backward for happiness rather than right here in the moment. And among all this, we could tell a story about new dynamics of old friendships, accepting the end of life, family, sacrifice and purpose.”
Moorhead and Benson’s three previous films were smaller by design and necessity and the duo wear as many hats as possible on their own films: writing, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, even visual effects. This was especially true in The Endless in which Moorhead and Benson also starred.
When I reviewed The Endless, I wrote that that film was an evolution in all aspects of filmmaking for Moorhead and Benson – and I can write the same again for Synchronic, but even to a greater extent.
This time around, they hit the jackpot of getting to make a singular, personal, emotional film that is ideally accessible to any audience member. Everything from the cinematography and the score, to the dialogue and the special effects, show a continued growing confidence as filmmakers.
From the very first scene, the viewer quickly understands that what is on the screen is exactly what the directors want you to experience – nothing more, nothing less.
My hope is that the addition of Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan to the Moorhead and Benson universe not only brings in new and existing fans, but that those new fans go back and discover the rest of the duos creative filmography. I for one can not wait to see what they have in store for us next.