TIFF 2019: SYNCHRONIC – movie review

SYNCHRONIC. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

For the first time I’ve been granted press accreditation for the Toronto International Film Festival®, recognised as one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of movies. This is my review of TIFF exclusive SYNCHRONIC (USA, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, drama/horror/sci-fi).

The couple of indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are a favourite of mine since 2014, when they released the cult hit Spring, a film I sincerely adore. I loved their first micro-budget feature (Resolution, 2012), and their breakthrough film (The Endless, 2018) is one of my absolute favourite horror movies from last year. Now, with SYNCHRONIC, Benson and Moorhead finally set foot into the mainstream.

SYNCHRONIC revolves around New Orleans paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) stumbling upon a bizarre plot involving a series of drug-related deaths. Aside from a cast made of big names, this film benefits from a bigger budget, a solid studio (XYZ Films) and a much wider crew.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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This is, unfortunately, not a good thing. Every other movie these guys have written, directed, edited and designed the cinematography for (yes, they’re incredibly talented filmmakers), is an experience the viewer experiences without ever being spoon-fed or treated as a passive consumer. Whether you liked these filmmakers’ previous work, their vision was undeniable and so was the effort required to the audience.

SYNCHRONIC, on the other hand, clearly tries to reach out to a more hand-holding type of audience. The dialogues don’t feel steeped in mystery and abstract concepts, here, but they’re filled with exposition which is, however, rather well-disguised and cleverly presented. Although this film has a very similar approach to The Endless, their previous movie could be debated for days, whereas SYNCHRONIC constantly drops hints and clues as to what the story means.

On top of that, the characters in SYNCHRONIC feels a tad like blank slates that viewers can project themselves onto. Simply put, they’re very similar to your cookie-cutter Hollywood protagonist who’s very easy to understand and relate to for the audience. What makes the characters of Spring and The Endless so compelling, on the contrary, was the attention to detail, their being multi-layered and complex: you might not have identified with them, but you couldn’t deny how fascinating those characters were.

Despite the attempt at winking to a more mainstream audience is detrimental to SYNCHRONIC, every actor in the film gives their all: Jamie Dornan, finally freed of the Fifty Shades of Grey infamy, steals the show with his subdued and solid acting; Anthony Mackie, here without wings and suit that made him famous as one of the flying Marvel characters, is excellent as a guy suffering from terminal cancer. Steve, in fact, provides the film with a very much needed sense of urgency.

Speaking of positives, the bigger budget this film was blessed with definitely helps the visual. The best thing about Benson and Moorhead is that their style is recognisable from miles away and, in SYNCHRONIC, they were able to create a universe, an atmosphere that feels unsettling and gorgeous at the same time.

Yet, SYNCHRONIC is a very fast-paced film, especially when compared to the filmmakers’ previous work. This is especially important when the themes of the movie are rather obvious, because it doesn’t allow the viewer’s mind to linger on on-the-nose commentary for too long.

In conclusion, SYNCHRONIC is a very solid sci-fi/horror film that, hopefully, will make more horror fans familiar with Benson and Moorhead. However, it’s probably the weakest film these guys have directed, with quite a few elements that felt too mainstream for the movie’s own good.

SYNCHRONIC                                   6/10

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