Interview – Moorhead & Benson Talk SYNCHRONIC & the Influence of Quantum Physics on Their Work


Fans of independent cosmic horror should be familiar with the mind-bending films of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. Their first film, Resolution (2012), which was followed by their creature feature, love story hybrid Spring (2014), has a connection to their third film, The Endless (2017), that just might break your brain. Both Resolution and The Endless play with the idea of parallel universes and are so popular with genre fans that they have spawned their own cinematic universe. While Benson is usually credited with writing their films and Moorhead is credited as the cinematographer, they work together as a directing team, as well as on every aspect of every film.

Their eagerly anticipated fourth film, Synchronic, stars Anthony Mackie (Ant Man, The Hate U Give) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall) as Steve and Dennis, best friends and paramedics who are called to an alarming number of mysterious, gruesome accidents that appear to be related to a new designer street drug called Synchronic. When Dennis’s (Dornan) daughter suddenly disappears, Steve (Mackie) accidentally discovers the terrifying, unbelievable truth about Synchronic and its effects on the universe and time as we know it. Featuring an electrifying performance from Mackie as Steve, an emotionally thought-provoking story, and a stunning score, Synchronic is a beautiful addition to The Endless universe created by Moorhead and Benson.

Dread Central was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson about Synchronic, quantum physics, the fate of Hawking the dog, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

Well Go USA will release Synchronic in theaters and drive-ins this Friday, October 23rd.

Dread Central: Synchronic stars Anthony Mackie, who is fantastic, and Jamie Dornan, who is also great, and it is your fourth feature film together. Justin, you usually write, and Aaron is the director of cinematography, and you direct together. How do the two of you find balance when working on a film together?

Justin Benson: It’s always hard to talk about because we’ve been doing it for so long and there actually isn’t any division of tasks. Often times, even though I’m authored on the screenplay, Aaron has had just as much input in that story as I have. In terms of what you traditionally think of as a cinematographer, we both work quite a bit on the movie visually in every way. There actually isn’t any division of anything or a balance to be made, but another way to describe it is even if you are one director on a set, and it’s not a co-director situation, you’re still in a nonstop collaboration with a whole lot of people. It’s never just you, ever. If you say that, you’re lying [laughs]. It’s another collaboration that just happens to be a bit more fluid and established, and probably looks like a psychic link between people, but we do it so much [laughs].

Aaron Moorhead: [laughs]

DC: Synchronic is in The Endless universe, correct?

JB: Yes, actually it is. The Endless and Resolution have a very strong connection, and this is a little more just for fun [laughs].

DC: Do either one of you have a background in physics or are you just interested in the topic? Resolution, The Endless, and Synchronic all take deep dives into quantum physics and alternate universes!

JB: I don’t think either one of us can say we have a background in physics, but there is a thing that’s a weird influence on my writing. I was pre-med and I did everything and got into medical school. When Resolution somehow got into a big film festival and it sold and all of that, I changed courses and stuck to filmmaking completely. That said, that period of my life still obviously has a huge influence on me, because at the time, that was my life, from sleeping three hours a night and otherwise I was buried in a science book. So, those things have a huge influence on me. Obviously, the stuff that sticks and the stuff that gets fetishized throughout my life is stuff like, you don’t spend that much time on special relativity, but it’s fascinating and you will never forget about it.

AM: I don’t have any science background, but I will say that I read an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction stuff I read is very pop, it’s always pop, it’s never a very deep dive kind of thing. It semi-often will be about the evolution of humans or it will be about black holes, or whatever, but it’s the stuff that everybody’s heard of. It’s a very broad, but very shallow amount of reading.

DC: Was there a specific inspiration for Synchronic?

AM: I think actually it does go back to what Justin was saying, it’s those ideas that stick with you. One of those ideas is the idea of eternalism or block state universe, which is something that Alan Moore puts in a lot of his work, where time is not actually flowing in any one direction, as far as we know. It’s actually potentially already fixed, and everything that will happen, has already happened, and everything that already happened is still there somewhere. It’s actually a very comforting idea. The people that die, are actually still alive, but just somewhere else. The word “where” doesn’t really work in this, but the linguistics are tough. But also, it’s very scary and the scary part is what we wanted to put in Synchronic. That was probably the very beginning of it, coupled with a designer synthetic drug, which is also its own weird, insane world, being able to allow one to perceive time that way.

DC: I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some heart-wrenching moments in Synchronic. This movie moved me to tears a few times. Can we talk about the dog, Hawking? I was pretty upset about the dog.

JB: It upsets us, too. The good news is that the dog actually holds the Guinness record as the longest life of a dog ever. Hawking went back to 1932 or so and got to chase squirrels around a wonderful rural forest instead of living in an urban landscape, until he died at the age of 50, and had a wonderful life. So, the dog is fine. Hawking is great.

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson behind the scenes of Synchronic.
(All photos courtesy Well Go USA)

DC: It adds another level of horror to the story to cast Anthony Mackie as Steve, because it’s more dangerous for a Black man to travel back in time, and the film exposes the racial inequality in American history. Was this an intentional choice?

JB: Yeah, there are several different reasons for this. For one, in cinema there is a tradition of really romanticizing, especially like 1950s America. Even things like the Victorian era.

AM: Oh, everyone is just dressed nice! Everyone speaks very properly. Cool buildings.

JB: Yeah, it’s just sort of an accepted thing that happens in cinema quite a bit, but the reality is, yeah those times were really romantic for a very small subset of the population. So, trying to tackle that it was like, “Oh, let’s tell a time travel story that’s a little more honest about what the past was.” And in doing that, we would make the past the antagonist in the film. We would make the past the monster of the film. Another way to say it too is that we chose to tell the story from Steve’s, played Anthony Mackie, perspective, but if the character were anyone who is not a white, heterosexual male, it’s not a romantic, great time for you.

AM: Honestly, even having fun conversations about what it was like living in the past it’s like, “Man, you have to live where there weren’t even antibiotics.” It’s just bad for everybody [laughs]. It’s just awful. The only way you can avoid that is by being extraordinarily rich and part of the aristocracy where you’re just not mixing that much with things that kill you. It’s pretty wild where it’s like there were class struggles, there’s race struggles that makes the past awful for literally almost anybody, but all we ever seem to do is depict it as either exciting or kind of beautiful and romantic and fun.

DC: Synchronic will be in theaters and drive-ins on October 23rd. The two of you, along with your producer Dave Lawson, Jr., released a statement detailing your thoughts about going to a movie theater during the pandemic. I was wondering if you have anything to add to that.

AM: Not really, except it should be clear, of course, that we love movie theaters. The pandemic has made an impossible situation for everybody. We’re like everyone else; we can’t wait to be in the movie theater again.

JB: This could all change. It’s an impossible situation for literally everybody, including exhibitors, including distributors, including filmmakers, including audience members. There’s no answer.

DC: I agree with you. I’m trying to take the stance of not encouraging people to go to the movie theater. I just thought it was awesome that you said something, because I’m not really seeing other filmmakers addressing this. I really appreciate that the two of you did address it, so thank you for that.

JB: Thank you. It came out of a place of just wanting and trying to do the right thing that was in our hearts. It’s very bizarre being in a situation that maybe no one has ever been in ever, completely unprecedented. Thank you for the kind words.



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