Paramedics see the crazy.
Every night, when Dennis and Steve dive into darkest corners of New Orleans, they never know what they might find: gangland killings, overdoses, assaults, suicides. Scenes that’d haunt most people forever are, for these paramedics, simply routine.
But now there’s a new synthetic drug on the streets, and it’s taken crazy to a whole new level.
The drug kills. Nothing unusual about that, of course; these two paramedics have pumped too many stomachs and pulled too many needles out of arms to have any illusions that these street concoctions are safe.
But this drug—Synchronic, it’s called—kills in a whole new way. Or … ways. One user dies from getting stabbed with a sword. Another seems to have jumped down an elevator shaft. A third user is almost catatonic when she’s found … and she seems to be suffering from a snakebite.
Still, it’s not up to Steve and Dennis to ponder what particular form of madness the drug uncorks. They’re just there to help who they can and toe-tag the rest. And Steve, well, he’s got crazy in his own life to deal with. Doctors have found a tumor on his brain’s pineal gland: It’s big, growing and inoperable. And while doctors say they can beat it back for a time with radiation, the simple truth is this: Steve is dying.
Steve doesn’t tell Dennis, because the guy has issues of his own. For the last 18 years, he’s been only semi-happily married, and person that brought them together in the first place—his and Tara’s daughter, Brianna—is leaving home now, to live on campus.
Late one night, Steve and Dennis respond to yet another call. They find one college kid dead, another stoned out of her mind. They ask the girl if anyone else might need help. “Brianna,” she says. But Brianna’s nowhere to be found. The only evidence Brianna left behind was a wrapper that held the pill she took: “Synchronic,” it says.
Dennis is frantic: It’s his Brianna, of course, who’s gone missing. And even as Steve grows sicker and sicker from the one-two punch of his tumor and the radiation treatment, the guy’s determined to find out what happened to his partner’s daughter—and what Synchronic had to do with it.
Crazy? Steve has seen his share. But it’s nothing compared to what’s to come.
Steve and Dennis save people’s lives for a living, and they (mostly) do their best to do their jobs.
But both begin the movie without a real purpose outside their working lives. Single Steve’s days are focused on one-night stands and bottles of booze. Meanwhile, Dennis looks at Steve and thinks the guy has it made: Way better to be single and carefree than to be anchored to a wife you’re not sure you love and responsibilities you’d rather not have.
Those attitudes change, though: Dennis discovers, belatedly, that he’s the one with the wonderful life. Steve finds a greater purpose beyond alcohol and sex. And one of them shows a willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other.
Dennis and Steve have known each other for upwards of 20 years. How did their lives turn out so differently? “Random events, chance and luck,” Steve insists. “Some people think it’s God or the universe or what the f— ever. But that’s what it is.”
Clearly, we’re not dealing with a movie that has a particularly spiritual take on life, but we still see plenty of nods to religion. Two people stare at a Buddha on a television screen as they take Synchronic, perhaps hoping that the drug will trigger a spiritual experience. Dennis and Steve respond to a call that involves what look like a group of Voodoo practitioners: One who has suffered a compound fracture is dressed up in the guise of Baron Samedi. Steve interrupts another apparent religious ceremony in the woods (which also might be related to a much earlier form of Voodoo).
We see a cross or two hung from walls. A woman contemplates creating an “app for power crystals, or astrology, maybe both.”
Steve and a woman engage in some after-sleep conversation, clearly after an intimate night. (We see the woman’s bare shoulders, but everything else is hidden by covers.) When Steve’s leaving, he reaches over to kiss her, but she pushes him away, offering a hand to shake instead. “It was nice to meet you,” she says.
We hear a lot about Steve’s sexual habits: At a party, we learn that most of Tara’s female friends had slept with the guy at one time or another. Steve and Tara dated, too, but Steve soon introduced her to Dennis: The two eventually got married and had a baby, though not necessarily in that order.
Steve and Dennis meet in a strip club, and we see dancers at a blurry distance (some of whom are wearing little or nothing). Dennis suggests that strip clubs are the only places in the world where you can’t have sex.
A woman in a dress is menaced by a snake that slithers between her legs—perhaps intended to be subliminally, horrifically sexual. Steve talks with Brianna and reassures her that she won’t go through life alone. Dennis and Tara cuddle in bed. Men are sometimes seen shirtless. We hear a joke or two about getting pregnant. Steve’s male doctor mentions his “boyfriend.” There’s a reference to the male anatomy.
Synchronic isn’t just mysterious; its, shall we say, side-effects, are grotesque. One man, nearly dead, lies on the floor with a terrible stab wound through his chest. (We see the wound from the front and back, along with lots and lots of blood.) A body found at the bottom of an elevator shaft seems as if several limbs got snapped clean off during the fall. (The corpse lies in the midst of those limbs, seriously bloodied but somehow still smiling.) Another person has been immolated. Someone suggests she might’ve spontaneously combusted. A still-surviving woman bears what looks like a terrible snake bite on her leg: The area around the puncture wound is seriously swollen and discolored.
The drug’s properties take us down some surreal rabbit holes: One woman is trapped in a flaming building, about to be burned alive. Another is stabbed in what appears to be a battle of some sort. A trench is lined with seemingly hundreds of brutalized bodies—victims of a horrific battle. People are menaced by wild creatures. One man is wrestled to the ground by several others in apparent preparation for a sacrifice. Someone falls from a pretty terrific height onto a desert floor.
A man suffers a grotesque compound fracture: Though we see the bones protrude from the leg, he doesn’t even notice. Two guys get into a fight and have to be pulled apart by a third.
Steve is threatened with guns, and he’s nearly killed by some vengeful KKK members. Someone nearly freezes to death. Dennis suggests to his wife that their daughter may be dead. We learn from a radio broadcast that someone has committed suicide. Another person gets jabbed with a needle unintentionally. Steve often thinks about coffins, partly open, coasting across mud and muddy water in a torrential rain.
More than 50 f-words and about 22 s-words. We also hear “a–”, “b–ch” and “d–k.” God’s name is abused twice.
Obviously, the entire movie revolves around Synchronic, a synthetic (and technically legal) drug that its maker suggests was designed to replicate DMT, a powerful hallucinogen. It comes in pill form, and we see a handful of people take it (one of them repeatedly). When Steve buys out the supply found at a local smoke shop, a man follows him and offers to buy what Steve just bought for $2,000.
Steve is a heavy drinker. He often talks to Dennis about what sort of hangover he’s dealing with on the job (mentioning both whiskey and tequila by name), and we see him drink straight from various liquor bottles. After he’s diagnosed with his tumor, Steve starts using the painkiller codeine, as well—stuff you obviously need a prescription for, but a drug that’s within easy reach in the ambulance that he and Dennis spend their nights in. Dennis, who doesn’t know about Steve’s tumor, worries as he watches Steve pop more and more pills. “Don’t become a junkie paramedic cliché,” he tells Steve. But when some morphine also goes missing from the ambulance, Dennis assumes that Steve stole it. (He didn’t.)
We see people smoke, drink and vape. Steve revives a woman who apparently overdosed on heroin—getting stuck with a needle at the same time. People are seen in various states of impairment. Steve gives 18-year-old Brianna a beer to drink, and she seems to have enough experience with it to know that it’s the cheap stuff.
Steve vomits violently several times. He encounters several racists, including a couple of men in KKK outfits and another who wants to make Steve his slave.
Tara and Dennis gently chide their 18-year-old daughter for staying out all night without sending a text to them.
Synchronic feels, in a way, like a poor man’s Christopher Nolan flick. What starts out as a grotesque horror movie morphs into something more akin to sci-fi about halfway through, making for an interesting (if not particularly consistent) story. You could drive a truck through some of the movie’s plot holes, but the truck does, at least, move at a good clip.
But, of course, that truck also takes us into some really bad neighborhoods. The film seems infatuated with bloody, gory messes (especially early on), and it bombards the viewer with an unremitting stream of bad language. And while the sexual content we see on screen isn’t too extreme for an R-rated film, Steve’s untamed sexual habits and constant drinking are simply inescapable.
Synchronic, we learn, is a seriously dangerous drug, and many of its users pay the ultimate price for their high. Synchronic, the movie, isn’t quite so lethal, technically speaking. Still, you might want to leave it in the bottle all the same.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.