The theatrical release of creative team Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s Synchronic did not go exactly as either had hoped. Though it did receive a rollout via traditional and drive-in theaters, Moorhead, Benson, and producer David Lawson implored audiences to wait for the film’s release on VOD, digital, or even home video so that audiences could see their work as safely as possible. If you honored their request — by choice or due to having no other option — you can finally rejoice as Synchronic, the fourth feature film from Moorhead and Benson is coming available straight to your home. Whether this is your first foray into the often bizarre concepts the duo use as the foundation of their tales or you’re coming in with expectations high based on experience, Synchronic will not disappoint you. Not only is it a cleverly constructed science-fiction yarn, but the narrative is beautiful, too, as it explores the persistent and enduring power of love in all its forms.
If you want to explore Synchronic with little influence, stop now and head over to the spoiler-free theatrical review. What comes next will include spoilers.
Family, it is said, is not merely defined by blood, but by those with whom we form tight bonds. This most certainly describes Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan), friends since high school and EMT partners in New Orleans, who have tackled their fair share of tragedies and triumphs. Their most recent challenge comes in the form of a manufactured street drug called Synchronic, as multiple emergency calls center on people being injured or killed in conjunction with taking it. After Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing, Steve ups his research, building off a suspicion that the designer drug is more than just a psychedelic gateway, it’s the means of teleporting through time.
If, like me, you came to the work of Moorhead and Benson with their third film, The Endless (2017), it may amuse you to learn that they had the idea for Synchronic well before working on The Endless, but had to postpone the project upon realizing that there wasn’t a way to make the film as they envisioned it with the resources they had available at the time. This is one of several fascinating revelations about Synchronic that come to light via the commentary track. They discuss how the character of Brianna started out as Brian, but they realized during the audition process that something was missing, so they changed the character to female, as well as altered the needs and desires of the character. Did you happen to notice the multiple long takes? Don’t worry, they’ll be pointed out to you, along with how they made them happen. The two even discuss why they avoided the stereotypical scene-setting dancer shots when putting together the sequence of Steve and Dennis talking in a corner booth at a strip club. These are but a few of the many interesting anecdotes from Moorhead and Benson via the commentary track included with the home release. What’s particularly fascinating is the list of source material that slowly expands as you listen, Moorhead and Benson pointing out what inspired what moment, scene, or idea, including theoretical physicists Albert Einstein and Brian Greene, as well as writer Alan Moore. Inspiration can truly come from anywhere and learning how they combined various concepts, ideas, myths, or notions to create Synchronic is about as fascinating as the film itself.
One particularly interesting piece of information about the making of the film comes in the “Making of” featurette. It starts with the usual mixture of cast and crew discussing the making of the film, but what will truly boggle the mind is learning how Moorhead and Benson accomplished the world-melting effects in the film. For this, they worked with French company BUF, who has worked on films such as Bill & Ted Face The Music (2020), High Life (2018), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), as well as television programs such as Watchmen (2019), Krypton (2018), and American Gods (2017). With a resume like this, BUF is certainly not to be underestimated in their ability to make the other-worldly grounded and real. To accomplish this for Synchronic, it means no green screen whatsoever, but a combination of 3D mapping and rotoscoping. This is first explained via the commentary track, but to see it in action is something else entirely. So when you see Steve take his first trip to the past while standing in his home, there is no green screen at all. The team from BUF literally hand traced over the footage in the apartment and mapped it so that they could manipulate each object as necessary. The results speak for themselves as the visual effects are seamlessly blended to appear, forgive the term, magical. Amusingly, the featurette ends with the cast and crew responding to the question of whether they would take the drug or not. Their answers may surprise you.
The rest of the bonus features are less in-depth than “Making of,” but are no less informative. The eight-minute featurette “Previsualization” comes with an introduction from Moorhead and Benson explaining how they blocked out certain scenes themselves, shooting footage so that they could get a stronger sense of what they needed to do on set with the cast and to inform the visual affects team of what they would be working with. The end result for the featurette is a screen-in-screen sequence with the home footage version of various scenes playing out in synch with the final version playing on a smaller screen on top. It’s not overlaid visually, but the audio is timed so that we can hear what the final version sounds like as we see how Moorhead and Benson tested the material on location. Similarly, the three-minute “VFX Breakdown” offers the home viewing audience the chance to get a peek at the technical side of making time travel look real. This means a variety of tests to check computer modeling, as well as seeing overlays of the test concepts over actual footage. The aforementioned scene of Steve time traveling for the first time is particularly impressive as we get a look of Mackie standing in a tub filled with water where the swamp should be before he leaps out. The deleted scene included is between Steve and his doctor (played by Sam Malone) and the trailers are a combination of related materials for Synchronic (teaser and official trailer) and previews for other Well Go USA films. What will likely amuse fans of Moorhead and Benson more than just fans of the film is the alternate ending. This particular bonus feature comes with an introduction that offers an explanation for the alt-ending’s genesis, as well as for previous alt-endings provided on other home release. Suffice it to say that knowing this makes the alt-ending even more enjoyable. All in all, the home release of Synchronic is well worth the wait and financial investment. You not only get the ability to watch it in the safest place possible (your home) whenever you want (your time), but you also get some interesting bonus materials to deepen the experience.
During the commentary, either Moorhead or Benson (I honestly couldn’t tell which) mentions that, “nostalgia is toxic.” The context of the statement is in reference to the way we often look back and presume things were better. This is somewhat tied to a political comment that comes up naturally, but the statement itself isn’t inherently political or politically motivated. What the statement means, as I interpreted it, is that by constantly focusing on the past, we anchor ourselves to it. They comment that “we can learn from the past, but to imitate the past isn’t ideal.” As we find ourselves looking backward to find comfort (music, art, clothing, film), we must also realize that what was wasn’t the best version of who we are. By constantly comparing, constantly reminiscing, we’re unable to see the possibilities of the future, let alone improve the present. This is a theme explored quite well through Dennis, a character reluctant to let go of what might have been regarding his child and wife, but it is no less important for the audience as well. We can’t keep looking to the past to return to the present. Rather, we should use it as a guide to create a better future. This is certainly how I see the end of the story, with Steve becoming the savior out of a profound love for Brianna and the understanding that without his sacrifice in the past, there can be no future for his family. The utilization of special relativity is cool and all, but this concept is what makes Synchronic worth repeat viewings. And now, you can.
Synchronic Special Features
- Commentary with Directors and Producer (found under “Set-Up”)
- Making of (15:05)
- Previsualization (8:13)
- VFX Breakdown (3:00)
- Deleted Scene (1:07)
- Alternate Ending (1:28)
- Teaser & Official Trailer
Available on digital January 12th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD January 26th, 2021.