Innovative filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are frequent collaborators, as evidenced by such films as Spring (2014) and The Endless (2017). Their films teeter between science-fiction, horror, fantasy, and personal drama, and this latest easily slides into the mind-bending and time-warping space they excel in…and all without the mega-budget we’ve come to expect from such films (I’m looking at you, Inception).
The film opens on a couple sharing a motel room and what appears to be an acid trip. Strange hallucinations hit them both. We soon flip to an emergency call performed by best buddy New Orleans paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). Their overdose victim is located in a setting where something is just a bit off, and where, “Time is a lie” is written on the wall. When Steve and Dennis are called to the motel in the first scene, we all start to understand something bizarre is happening.
Dennis is married to his wife Tara (Katie Aselton), who has recently given birth, and their headstrong 18-year old daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) lives with them. Steve’s days consist of one-night stands, more booze than any person should ingest, and time with his loyal dog Hawking (an obvious reference to the elements of time at play here). Dennis is bored and Steve is a mess, and things get worse when Steve is diagnosed with a brain tumor by his pineal gland, and Dennis’s daughter Brianna disappears.
A clue to the increasingly bizarre overdose and death scenes that Steve and Dennis run into is the “Synchronic” packaging. It’s a synthetic/designer drug that has dramatic and lethal effects, and a packet was found where Brianna was last seen. Steve decides to test the drug in an effort to “bring back” his friend’s daughter. As Steve videos his 7-minute trips to the past, and then kindly spells out everything he discovers, we viewers are spoon-fed the details that would typically require some effort. Beyond the reference to Stephen Hawking, we also get plugs for French composer Claude Debussy and a rare James Bond- Charlie Sheen joke.
Time travel has long been a fun topic for movies, and the ideas behind this one are quite promising. The only downsides are that it too obviously guides us through what’s happening, and the trips back in time aren’t as structured or interesting as we would hope…although the idea of having the past be in the identical spot as the future is terrific. Benson and Moorhead are ambitious and creative filmmakers, and their shot at appealing to mainstream audiences is appreciated, as is the atmosphere and camera work. However, many of us would rather a bit more be left to our imagination.