Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Written by: Justin Benson Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides
Coming off the critical success of The Endless (2017), Synchronic is the fifth collaboration between the directing duo of Benson and Moorhead. While not in the same universe as that of their previous 2 films (with 2012’s Resolution as a semi-prequel to The Endless), the film categorically shares the sci-fi/horror genre and with similar stylistic flair along with high tier lead actors in Anthony Mackie (The Avengers) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades franchise).
Set in modern-day New Orleans, Mackie and Dornan play paramedics Steve Denube and Dennis Dannelly who come across a bizarre case of young people overdosing over a new designer drug called Synchronic. The cases grow and become more horrifying each time, all while their personal lives are taking a dark turn – Mackie a lonely playboy with a serious illness and Dornan with domestic family difficulties. Everything falls apart when Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ioannides) disappears while allegedly taking the drug. While Dennis tries to repair things at home, Steve decides to try and find his friend’s daughter at a high cost.
With its atmospheric pacing and neo-psychedelic sequences, Sychronic is a stylish sci-fi thriller that seems to be the love-child of Ken Russell’s 1980 cult-classic Altered States and Scorsese’s 1999 supernatural film Bringing Out the Dead. The filmmakers set it up promisingly with creepy strokes of imagery and for the most part maintain it through the 2nd act. As in their previous films, Benson and Moorhead add touches of H.P. Lovecraft and at times mirroring some of the themes we see from Lovecraft Country. There are portrayals of racial profiling and segregation as well as slavery. However, for good or bad, the filmmakers chose not to use this as a plot development point, even though it’s insinuated that present day New Orleans is (as most of the country) still rife with racism.
Mackie is fine as an involuntary bachelor with an existential crisis. While he tackles the character with serious gusto as usual, he’s able to dash on some likable humor which tellingly are the filmmakers’ attitude in not taking things too seriously. Dornan is merely there and the other actors as just props.
The 3rd act is when Synchronic becomes a predictable time travel yarn with the usual flaws in believability. There are those moments of “really?” with a big question mark but that is to be expected and the film glosses over those shortcomings with pacing and Mackie’s likable performance. It is also commendable that the film did not devolve into a full-on gore-fest. That was comforting given the compelling subject matter of a drug epidemic.
Ultimately, beyond the two-dimensionality of the characters and the believability of the plot, the film is a nice enough pit stop for science fiction/thriller fans. While it doesn’t succeed wholly in making us forget the trivialities of time travel science, Benson and Moorhead seem to say that Synchronic need not be synchronous with reality. After all, momentary escape should do.
So did you see SYNCHRONIC? Let us know what you think!
Twin Cities Film Fest picked a truly awesome film for our closing night! Time Lapse is one of those mind-bending sci-fi gems that delivers big impact on a shoestring budget. Director Bradley King and actor George Finn were in attendance and participated in the Q&A afterwards. The theater was packed and the audience gave a loud applause when the credits rolled. I thought it was really well-done, a character-driven piece with a nice blend of humor and suspense.
… I was lucky enough to be able to chat with them at the Marriott Hotel in the afternoon before the screening. It was just the three of us in this huge lobby, and there was no time restriction and no other interviewer present, which was very cool indeed!
This is yet another impressive directorial debut I saw at TCFF, perhaps even the best. If Time Lapse is any indication, I sure hope this is the first of many from Bradley King. I sure hope the big studios take notice, because if he could do something THIS good on a small budget, I’d love to see what he could do with something that has ten times its budget.
This could be the big break for George Finn as well, who displays a strong screen charisma as well as acting range, seamlessly alternating between a grungy slob to a sly & sinister young man. It’s truly a pleasant surprise to see him channel his dark side convincingly, as the actor I met earlier in the day is so affable and charming … not to mention devastatingly beautiful. A native of Tbilisi, Georgia, Finn is tall, with striking blue eyes and tousled jet black hair, he looks like a cross between Cillian Murphy and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Ok I could go on but let’s get to the interview, shall we?
Ruth: So Bradley, how did you and [co-screenwriter] B.P. Cooper came up with the story idea?
Bradley: Well I wish I could take credit for it but actually it’s Cooper who came up with the idea for the machine. He actually had seen a movie where someone put a camera inside a machine. So we thought well, what if the machine and the camera were the same thing? So I kinda took that and thought well, that’s awesome but how could we do that and make it into something that’s low-budget in one location, so I guess that’s how it came out of. It’s a practical beginning really, how about if we make a low-budget sci-fi movie, I mean we both love science fiction so this is really what came out of that idea.
R: I know you came out from short films background… I mean you’ve directed a lot of them. So what make you decide that this is going to turn this idea into a feature film?
Bradley: Yes I’ve directed a lot of features and Cooper has produced a few features, so I guess we’re both were at a point where we wanted to make a movie together and so we’re consciously looking for a film idea that we can do with the means that we have. So once we came up with this we soon realize this would fit the bill.
R: And how was the casting come on board… I mean how did George come on board and all that?
Bradley: Well let’s hear George’s story on how he came on board and I can help fill in the rest…
George: Well, Rick Montgomery who’s the producer of Time Lapse is also a well-known casting director so I read with him a few times and he sent me a pitch packet with a script and the entire layout of what the time machine look like and kind of a storyboard almost. So I read the script and I fell in love with the character Jasper. I remember when I was first reading it, I completely understood who he was. I mean there are certain individuals who sort of resonated with me and I was really getting into it. And the more I read it I found myself getting lost in the story and was really hooked. So by the time I went to read with these guys [pointing to Bradley] I really wanted the part. I met them and in this room there were a lot of storyboards and some yarn lines kind of telling us what would happen after what … I think it was sort of a prototype of the big room. And so I met with them and luckily, it worked out.
R: This film reminds me a bit of Chronicle, which is also a small-budget sci-fi. I mean it’s different plot-wise but it also have three young people dealing with having some kind of superpowers, whilst the people in Time Lapse discovered a machine that’s supposedly have some kind of powers. So is it kind of a cautionary tale about when someone gets a certain power, how the human nature comes into it?
Bradley: Yeah I think pretty early on, we knew things weren’t going to end up well. I’ve always liked cautionary tales especially in sci-fis. We had other potential endings y’know, but it just, the theme of people being obsessed with the future that it sort of ruin their present is something that both Cooper and I can relate to. I think a lot about the future. I think I’d be more like the Finn character [played by Matt O’Leary], I worry a lot about what my next project’s gonna be, whether the next idea show up or whether I’m gonna sit here and stare at a blank page for y’know, however long. So yeah, I used to think that you could decide the theme first then write the story out of that, but usually it’s the other way around. You start writing the story then as you’re writing it, then you realize that ‘oh this theme seems to be strong’ and at the end, usually it becomes clear. Then you go back and see if we could adjust to make that theme even clearer and stronger. So we rewrite things a little bit after you realize the “meaning” of it is. At least for me as a filmmaker, I don’t know that everyone who watches it would take that away but for us, but for us, that’s definitely a strong theme.
R: One of the reviews of the film that I read talked about the visual and the sound kind of give the audience that claustrophobic feeling, you know, being in a small set. So can you talk about a little bit about filming in such a small space and how you got it down to how you wanted it to be.
Bradley: I’d be happy to, but I’m curious how George feels about acting in such a small set and how it affects his performance.
George: Yeah I think it enhances everything in the sense that because we’re all there and we’re kind of so close, we all fell into our roles. It was easier to develop our relationships and figure everything out. And when you’re watching the film, you mentioned the word claustrophobia, you really… umm, I’m trying to find the words on how to describe it… well the claustrophobia adds and intensifies everything.
R: Cool. I mean you kind of want the environment to be part of the story, don’t you?
Bradley: Yeah I was worried y’know, as a filmmaker, would it stay interesting? Would it be too claustrophobic? I mean you’ve seen some movies set in one location and you get bored, y’know and by the end, you’re like, I’ve seen this wall a thousand times already. So y’know, so it’s a challenge for everybody. We talked to the DP y’know to keep the lighting fresh, do we want to add more contrast towards the end, darker, or whatever and I think Jonathan [Wenstrup, the cinematographer] did a great job keeping things fresh. I mean yeah, we wanted the film to feel claustrophobic because they kind of trapped in this weird little bubble. Not just in the apartment but the complex itself, ’cause everything happens right there. We’re very lucky that we got this 20s-style series of bungalows that we could take the whole place over. People could do things and move around outside but they never really left, I mean they don’t even know what city they’re in. I like it as a creative limitation. Once we’re able to find the place. Cooper said it was a nightmare until we found it as we spent weeks and weeks trying to find that stupid location.
George: I think one of the coolest things about that location is the fact that where we were, right across from us you actually the camera. The location is exactly what it is. I mean there’s this one movable wall but everything that’s there is really there.
Ruth: So you don’t have to imagine things?
George: Yeah I think as an actor I feel that because of that, it made it a lot easier to understand the character and get into ’em because in that world, we got to really immerse ourselves into it and be comfortable in it and explore all the fun things that we did get to find.
Ah, the actual shooting was 27 or 28 days. We’ve been giving both answers during Q&As [laughs], Cooper knows exactly how long, but I think even he’s been giving both answers. So it’s like 27, then we had to add one more day, so 28.
R [for George]: You’ve done some films and a few TV work, I know you’re in The Mentalist [season 6 final episode: Blue Birds]. So is this your first sci-fi genre?
George: Yeah it is. This is my first sci-fi film. I mean I couldn’t be more proud of a film, I think [laughs]. I’m really, really happy. I mean, I got to see a lot of Danielle’s and Matt’s stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see. So when I finally got to see it, I was able to remove myself enough to really appreciate it. From the feedback we’re getting and things I’ve heard, I know I’m really proud of it.
R: Last question for you Bradley. Who’s your filmmaker inspiration?
Bradley: Oh boy, that’s tough as I don’t think I have just one and it changes depending on the project. As we got into this one a lot, now I’ve been a big Hitchcock fan and this movie has a bit of Rear Window tone to it. I certainly study him. There are so many others that the list would go on forever. I think it’s easier for me to point to movie influences in this one. We also took a look at films with relationship dynamics where there are three people who are really close and things go really bad. So we looked at Shallow Graves, that was the one we watched a lot,and also A Simple Plan. We also revisited Time Crimes, Back to the Future, and Twelve Monkeys. We just wanted to make sure just what are the rules about time travel, even though there isn’t really time travel in our movie but there is that time themes so you know, we just want to make sure we handle this in a way that’s palatable for people who like this sort of thing. So I guess those are the main influences.
But then when we get to post-production, my editor was a bit Stanley Kubrick fan and so we talked about him. I mean, we didn’t want to make this machine alive but at the same time, it is sort of this Hal-like thing across the way where he’s watching people and in the end, it’s like y’know, the last man standing. And also, once the composer came on board, we started talking about Bernard Herrmann, and sort of going back to Hitchcock and how to deal with a score that could be an old school suspense vein but also feels modern.
R [for George]: And you worked with your brother a lot … [Nika Agiashvilli] So what’s next for you? You have a project you’re working with him right now, correct?
George: Yeah we have a project that’s in early pre-production. It’s a bit of a passion project of ours. We finally getting close to how we wanted to make it. It’s called The Short Happy Life of Butch Livingston. That’s most likely going to be next. I’m also working on another one with Ron Perlman called Savage Mutts, it’s a gritty revenge thriller. It’s a lot of fun, we’re excited about that so whichever one of those shall be my next project.
Ruth: Well, thanks so much guys. I don’t really have any more questions. So do you have anything to add about the film?
Bradley: Ummm I don’t think so, how about you George?
George: Well, go see it! [laughs] Thank you for having us here.
Ruth: No thank you! It’s been fun chatting with you both and I’m super excited to see the film!
During the Q&A, someone asked Bradley about the design of the Camera Machine itself, here’s his answer:
Bradley:Up front I knew that I wanted it to feel retro and a bit steam-punk-y. I worked with a concept artist named Howard Schechtman, and I made it clear I didn’t want any LEDs or lasers or computer chips etc. He started coming back with great sketches, and probably the 3rd one is the one we went with. At that point we didn’t really expect the physical machine to end up resembling these sketches (because of budget, it just seemed improbable) but then we discovered this fabricator named Dave Mendoza, and he and a scenic artist Thibault Pelletier worked together over the course of the shoot to build the machine as you see it in the movie. They were sourcing parts from all over the place – an airplane junkyard, hardware stores, some parts even came from the abandoned apartment complex itself. By the end of the shoot they had really captured the magic of the concept sketches, and I was extremely pleased.
Congratulations Bradley & BP Cooper + the entire cast for Time Lapse winning the Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award!
Check out Time Lapse‘s trailer
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Bradley & George!
Hope you enjoyed the interview. Has anyone seen Time Lapse? I’d love to know what you think!
I saw The Machine back in April and while I didn’t think it was perfect, it’s a pretty darn good sci-fi that’s worth your while. I think the concept is intriguing, with fantastic acting [Toby Stephens, natch!] and compelling direction. I have been re-watching clips of this film recently, especially the scenes between the scientist Vincent (Stephens) and his robotic creation Ava (Caity Lotz). At the core of it, it’s the relationship of man and machine that makes the story memorable.
Sci-fi classic Blade Runner, which The Machine undoubtedly paid homage to, explores that man-machine relationship brilliantly. I actually love the original title of Philip K. Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘ Now it doesn’t sound as cool but it’s effective as it immediately makes you think about the humanity [or lack thereof] aspect of man-made machines better than Blade Runner.
I love sci-fis, especially those that explore this topic, perhaps even more so than sci-fis involving aliens from outer space. So no doubt I love movies like Terminator, Iron Giant, The Matrix, A.I., Her and the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) TV series, which is a big space soap opera of Cylons (android race) and humans. I think there’s something about ‘men playing God’ aspect that captures my attention, as in some ways these androids are part of us humans who create them, in the same way that we’re created in the image of our Creator. But of course the fantastical aspect of seeing machines somehow developing consciousness is what I find fascinating AND entertaining.
Often the depictions of these androids actually remind us of what it means to be human, as the Blade Runner ‘tears in the rain’ scene so poignantly illustrates. In this scene in The Machine, Vincent [a scientist akin to Dr Frankenstein] asks his own robotic creation…
‘Just who are you really? How do I know that you’re alive and not just some clever imitation of life?’
Now even Vincent himself probably realizes he might never find the answer. Now another the burning question being asked time and time again is can man and machine co-exist?In the BSG series, the Cylons threaten human extinction, forcing the humans into deep space confined in a spaceship. The tagline of The Machine says ‘They Rise. We Fall.’ which suggest that the much-more advanced and powerful machines are more dominant and that the future seems uncertain for the humans.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? What’s YOUR favorite movies about man & machine?
Boy oh boy! I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time now. In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge fan of District 9 which was a surprise to me as I didn’t even know much about it when I saw it on the big screen. Well, it’s been over three years since I saw that film and finally, South African director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley are re-teaming for another sci-fi thriller.
I was kind of hoping that Copley would have the leading role this time around, but I understand that with a much-bigger budget, they’d need a movie star. So we’ve got Matt Damon in the lead instead. Check out the awesome poster of him with all that robotic stuff attached all over his body!
I originally thought this was a follow-up to District 9, as I’ve outlined on my Upcoming Flix Spotlight post a year ago. But now it’s clear that this film has a new storyline that’s not related to D-9 universe, though it still carries a similar social issue theme. Now, this film was first scheduled for release in March before being pushed back to August. I don’t think it’s a sign of trouble though, I think that’d give Blomkamp to release some viral marketing for it like he did for D-9 which was a smart move.
Now finally, a trailer!!
WHOAH!! I’m even more intrigued now after seeing this. I really like the look of this and the apocalyptic story looks very promising and thought provoking, with all the visual and thematic elements every sci-fi lovers would love. Blomkamp is working again with Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital so it’s to be expected that the special effect is going to rock! Even right off the bat, I like the stark contrast between the perfect world of the Elysium space station and the left-behind slum that is the Earth. I read that Blomkamp shot the Earth footage in Mexico City, and everything on Elysium in Vancouver.
Per IGN, like Blomkamp’s previous film, this one has a similarly impoverished and segregated society, but this time along economic lines rather than species. Where District 9 was a sci-fi allegory for racism, Elysium is about economic disparity.
In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a hard line government ofﬁcial, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.
Here are four more details I learned from this HitFix article, which summarized the SONY press preview event in L.A. with Blomkamp, Copley and producer Simon Kinberg:
Damon’s character is Max, an ex-con who’s working a factory job on Earth. A radiation leak prompted him to be cast off by the authoritarian government. He knows the only way to get rid of the toxic radiation is in Elysium, and he has to find a way to get there.
The robotic stuff on his body, and that data port on his head is the result of self-modification Max did as a mechanism to hijack security information from an Elysium citizen.
Sharlto Copley plays the bad guy, Kruger. He is an Elysium operative who lives on Earth, waiting to be activated. When an attack on an Elysium citizen occurs, he gets the signal.
Jodie Foster plays a Senator, as Foster herself described in Movieline as “… the person who controls who gets to come in [to Elysium] and who doesn’t. She’s methodical, her antagonism has a point.” She also mentions that Elysium is an international place, as its residents comes from all over the earth.
Blomkamp said that 2/3 of the film would take place on earth and 1/3 in Elysium to emphasize further that the space station is truly a fantastical place every human being aspire to live in.
Elysium is out in theaters on August 9, 2013. I can hardly wait! …
On a related note, two years ago, I wrote thispost-apocalyptic sci-fi drama pitchwhere some humans live in another planet whilst the remaining earth population struggle to survive.
Check it out and let me know what you think 😀
Are you as stoked as I am about this one? What do you think of the trailer?