Anthony Mackie’s star is rising. As the co-lead of Marvel’s Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the all-but-confirmed next Captain America, he’s about to be one of the biggest names in Hollywood. But in the meantime, Mackie’s been honing his craft in some under-the-radar science fiction films — and one of his best just showed up on Netflix.
Synchronic released in theaters in October 2020 — so not a lot of people saw it. That’s a shame because this time-travel thriller with noir influences has something interesting to say, both about the genres it dips into and the history of America. Now that it’s on Netflix, maybe this intriguing, imperfect movie will finally get its due. Here’s why it’s worth checking out.
From indie moviemaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Synchronic stars Anthony Mackie as Steve, a late shift paramedic in present-day New Orleans who encounters an increasingly bizarre series of drug overdoses sometimes involving old swords (yes, this is a time travel movie about swords). Early in the film, Steve finds out he has a deadly form of brain cancer. Meanwhile, his paramedic partner Steve’s teenage daughter Brianna disappears after taking a new synthetic drug called synchronic at a party.
The drug is spreading across New Orleans, and Steve decides to buy up all of this over-the-counter fake DMT to keep it out of the hands of local kids. However, he soon discovers that synchronic isn’t just a knockoff drug, it’s a time-travel pill.
In a bit of pseudoscience exposition, we found out synchronic affects the pineal gland, which becomes calcified as humans age. We also get a very fun explanation of time travel using a record player as a metaphor for the concept that all time exists at once, we just perceive it as linear.
Steve begins to experiment with the drug, hoping he can find Brianna in the past and bring her back to the present. But each trip brings dangerous new encounters with the violent racism of America’s past. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s ambiguous in all the best ways.
Beyond the fun of time travel, Synchronic has something important to say about America and Hollywood. In an interview with Thrillist, co-director Justin Benson revealed the movie’s obvious but unlikely inspiration: Back to the Future. Benson calls the movie an unquestionable classic but also calls out a broader Hollywood trend of romanticizing the 1950s despite the rampant inequality of that time.
“The reality is that the 1950s were only good for a very small subset of the population,” Benson said. “With that, came the idea of like, hey, let's make a time-travel movie but the past is the monster because that would be more honest.”
Synchronic doesn't pull any punches in that regard. Pretty much every time Mackie travels back in time he encounters a violent racism we rarely see in science fiction. Eventually, you’ll wince each time Steve gets ready to swallow one of his remaining pills.
At the same time, the science in Synchronic sci-fi is laughable. On the surface, its take on time travel is fun to explore, just don’t think about it too hard.
“I pray to God Neil DeGrasse Tyson never watches one of our movies,” Benson told Thrillist.
If you enjoy Synchronic, we have good news. It’s actually part of a broader sci-fi horror cinematic universe from Benson and Moorhead that includes 2017’s The Endless, 2014’s Spring (streaming on Tubi), and 2012’s Resolution (also on Tubi).
You don’t have to watch any of those films to enjoy or even understand Synchronic, just know there’s plenty more where this came from — and don’t expect Anthony Mackie to show up in any of Benson and Moorhead’s other movies.
Synchronic is streaming now on Netflix in the U.S.