Tag Archives: Justin Benson

A Connecting Principle

Synchronic

by Hope Madden

Has it really been three years since filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead took us on the UFO death cult head trip that was The Endless?

It’s hard to tell with these guys. They really like to play with time.

Another riff on the same theme, Synchronic is a sci-fi fantasy about parallel dimensions and time travel—plus bath salts.

Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are best friends and NOLA paramedics, each facing his own existential crisis. Dennis can’t seem to move past the fear that he’s settled: for his wife, his job, his life. Meanwhile, Steve—whose existence of work, drink and women long ago ceased to have meaning—gets a medical diagnosis that has him rethinking everything.

So far so ordinary, but if you’ve seen anything these filmmakers have done (and you should see everything), you know something seriously weird is coming.

The film’s conceit is a fascinating one, and every grisly crime scene offers a curious clue that may eventually help Steve solve a mystery that gives him purpose and redirects his bestie. Benson, who writes and co-directs, offers plenty of opportunity for mind-bending action and wild set pieces.

He and co-director/cinematographer Moorhead cut back and forth through time to keep you guessing as to the mystery developing, but what’s left underdeveloped are the characters.

Two of the filmmakers’ previous three efforts focused on a pair of men linked through time and experience to the other—best friends in Resolution, brothers in The Endless. This kind of relationship has proven a beautiful anchor for their trippy plots, but Synchronic doesn’t invest enough time or attention to Steve and Dennis’s characters.

Both Mackie and Dornan are solid enough, but their chemistry is weak. The time-worn friendship is more discussed than exposed. Worse, Synchronic is the first of the filmmakers’ movies to lack a robust sense of humor. And it is missed.

The result is a sometimes dour though mainly melancholy effort that feels far less original than it really is. Synchronic is clever, to be sure, and at times quite touching. But for filmmakers who’ve until now positively dripped with inspiration, it feels like a step backward.

Home Again, Home Again

The Endless

by Hope Madden

There is something very clever about the way Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s movies sneak up on you. Always creepy, still they defy genre expectations even as they play with them.

Camp Arcadia offers the rustic backdrop for their latest, The Endless. A clever bit of SciFi misdirection, the film follows two brothers as they return to the cult they’d escaped a decade earlier.

Just to visit.

Do you ever have those dreams where you find yourself back in your hometown and no matter how hard you try, you can’t leave? No? You must not be from Tiffin, Ohio.

Benson and Moorehead capture that particular panicked feeling, each slow-moving moment generating a louder and louder echo in your head, yelling: Why are you still here? Go already!

The other thing the directing pair creates with uneasy authenticity is that spotty forgiving and unforgiving bond between siblings.

The directors themselves play those siblings. Though Moorehead and Benson have had cameos in their previous films Spring and Resolution, as well as a handful of other horror flicks, The Endless, penned by Benson, is the first film they anchor.

Their acting chops are mainly solid, although perhaps not lead-worthy. Moorehead’s innocence and whining sometimes feel forced. Meanwhile, Benson’s character’s motivation is at times suspect, and he’s unconvincing as a sheltered, shell-shocked, co-dependent.

Though the lead performances sometimes undermine the agile storytelling, the turns the directors draw from their ensemble are strong across the board. Welcome familiar faces in a third-act surprise prove the filmmakers’ nimble skill with a fantasy storyline that could easily collapse on itself but never does.

It is this story and the pair’s storytelling skill that continues to impress. Their looping timelines provide fertile ground for clever turns that fans of the filmmakers will find delightful, but the uninitiated will appreciate as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRg7lwDsGpw