I’ve always been interested in quirky and idiosyncratic movie directors – though not always their personal lives – people that no matter what they’re doing bring their own distinct flavor and point of view to the project.
That’s the case with artists (not a word I throw around lightly. Just because you’re a director doesn’t by default make on an artist) like Guillermo Del Toro, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese, just to name three of the top of my head.
And that’s the case with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead as well. I don’t mean to imply they’re in the league – yet – of the three aforementioned luminaries, but every project they work on is always interesting and thought-provoking.
Spring (2014) was the first movie I saw from the pair and that was an accident – I was looking for something to watch and the poster caught my eye (it might have been all the praise the film was receiving, particularly the Lovecraft comparisons – another seemingly awful person, which is not unlike his writing except in that instance I anxiously sought those horrors out. His seemingly casual racism? Not so much).
And I really enjoyed it. There wasn’t much to it story-wise – man falls in love with shape-shifting woman – but I have always been of the opinion that the hardest stories to tell are those that structurally speaking are the simplest and Spring really worked on that level.
I don’t think it was great by most metrics though to be fair if greatness were easy to achieve it would lose all meaning though as I said, it was interesting and treated the subject matter with a sensitivity that you don’t often see. Though the descriptor “Lovecraftian” in this instance (and most others) is thrown around way too often for my liking. It has overtones of his work but that was hardly it’s most distinctive feature.
Though what was the real entry drug into the world of Moorhead and Benson was Resolution (2012). This too received more than a fair amount of praise so, like a skeptic about to witness a miracle, I dived right in, fully expecting all the accolades to be mere puffery.
And I was wrong because it blew me away. Part of the reason I enjoy the Marvel movies – which this isn’t – is because of the idea of interconnectivity, of an expanded universe, which is the case with Resolution as well.
So I tracked down as much as their filmography as I could find (I saw VHS: Viral but have no recollection of the short the pair shot, Bonestorm, for that movie. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it more than that was part of an anthology and individual stories don’t always resonate).
The next movie I saw was The Endless which was not only directed by the pair, but starred them as well. I don’t tend to enjoy movies that feature directors doing double duty in front of and behind – so far only Alfred Hitchcock and Spike Lee seem capable of pulling that off with aplomb – the camera because more often than not they just prove that some people aren’t meant to be actors (and whomever told M. Night Shyamalan he can act is probably the same person who told him that casting The Last Airbender with a primarily Caucasian cast was a good idea).
And it was fine, though probably the weakest effort thus far, which isn’t to say that it wasn’t watchable, just it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the premise (two men escape a cult only to return years later to discover that it’s seemingly insane beliefs were more based on reality than they could have imagined) would leave one to believe.
Which brings us to Synchronic.
This is probably the most mainstream of the pair’s efforts and enjoyable (though to be fair anything that stars Anthony Mackie is worth looking at) and revolves around two paramedics – played by Mackie and Jamie Dornan – who stumble upon a new designer drug called Synchronic, which has the curious – and unintended – side effect of sending the user back in time for about seven minutes.
This is a novel update of the time travel story and the way that Moorhead and Benson explore and flesh out the concept is really fascinating though the story suffers somewhat from some odd inconsistencies.
And why they don’t make Synchronic any less enjoyable they do make it more disposable because it’s mythology isn’t so deep that you can’t see the holes.
Though it’s worth watching (especially if you’re a completist) though when all is said and done the pair have yet to reach the heights of Resolution.