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Entry updated 27 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2019). Patriot Pictures in association with Pfaff and Pfaff Productions, Love and Death Productions and Rustic Films. Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Written by Justin Benson. Cast includes Katie Aselton, Jamie Dornan, Allie Ioannides, Anthony Mackie and Ramiz Monsef. 102 minutes. Colour.

New Orleans paramedics Steve (Mackie) and Dennis (Dornan) encounter a spate of unusual and baroque deaths among the City's drug-using population, the common denominator being a new designer Drug called Synchronic. When Dennis's teenager daughter Brianna (Ioannides) vanishes after trying Synchronic, Steve begins an investigation that quickly leads him to the drug's designer (Monsef). The designer explains that Synchronic implausibly interacts with the human pineal gland in a way that sends the user on a journey to the past meant to last seven minutes. Although normally only adolescents can Time Travel with Synchronic, a brain tumour in his pineal gland allows Steve to utilize the drug to its full effect.

Steve's experiments with Synchronic land him anywhere from a hundred to tens of thousands of years back in time, the timing based on his precise geographical location when the pill takes effect. Steve searches for Brianna through a series of historical epochs in each of which he is immediately threatened, prompting ruminations about the risks of being a black man throughout America's history (see: Race in SF). Steve tells his partner Dennis to be grateful that they live in the present before taking one last time jaunt to locate Brianna. He finds her in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans, but uses his last Synchronic pill to get her back to the future, leaving him trapped in the nineteenth century.

After their evocative Lovecraftian Time Loop movie The Endless (2017), Benson and Moorhead earned the budget to bring their New Weird film-making to a wider audience with well-known actors Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan in the starring roles. The result is a film that still moves to the conversational rhythms of an indie drama, but adds inventive dream-like visuals to depict time periods overlapping.

Although Synchronic's budget is bigger than for Moorhead and Benson's previous efforts, the scope of the film still seems a little too small for the story it is telling. While making a thematic point that our nostalgia for the past blinds us to its horrors, the script strains credulity by making history so swiftly and uniformly deadly to time tourists. Anthony Mackie gives a stalwart performance as a man who responds to his bizarre situation with a scientific approach. [JN]


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