It's a very strange time to be releasing a new movie. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many films are either pushing their releases into next year or heading to video on-demand releases that allow people to watch from the safety of their couch, but not everyone has that option. Sometimes the contracts just say a film is heading to theaters no matter what, which puts filmmakers concerned for the safety of moviegoers in an awkward position. In the case of the filmmakers behind the new sci-fi horror release Synchronic, that means they're now actively telling fans that they probably shouldn't hit up a theater right now, whether they want to see their movie or not.
Synchronic, starring Avengers: Endgame's Anthony Mackie and The Fall's Jamie Dornan, follows two paramedics in New Orleans as they struggle to understand the effects of a new designer drug that seems to have some particularly unusual, and frightening, origins. The film was directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (best known for the extremely effective sci-fi horror film The Endless) and had a well-received world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall before being picked up for distribution by Well Go USA Entertainment. Under that distribution agreement, the film is set to hit theaters and drive-ins next month, on October 23, and the creators are apparently not happy about that.
In a joint statement posted to Moorhead's Instagram account over the weekend, the film's directors (Benson also wrote the screenplay) and producer David Lawson note that the planned October release is "due to distribution arrangements that are out of our control," and specifically add that while they're happy to see the film at a drive-in, they're not eager to see people going to indoor theaters for Synchronic.
"But we want to be very clear: at the time of writing this, we personally wouldn't go to an indoor movie theater, so we can't encourage you to," the trio wrote. "To us, this isn't only about feeling safe in a theater, this is also about the scientific community indicating that enclosed spaces like movie theaters are still a hazard for spreading COVID-19 to others."
You can read the full statement below.
The last two weeks in particular have been something of a testing ground for studios hoping to release movies in just-reopened theaters as the pandemic continues. Major releases like The New Mutants and, most notably, Christopher Nolan's Tenet have put up poor U.S. box office numbers at a time when many moviegoers are still avoiding theaters and major markets like New York and Los Angeles remained closed due to public health concerns.
Though Tenet has done better overseas in markets that have the virus under considerably more control than the United States, its box office performance has already led other major releases like Wonder Woman 1984 and Candyman to move away from planned releases in the coming weeks, with the latter film pushing all the way into next year. To make matters worse, Tenet's poor box office performance has also raised concerns that theaters will actually struggle even more financially in the wake of the film's release due to expenses outpacing the revenue they took in from the film. And on top of all of that, as the Synchronic filmmakers noted, public health experts still say that movie theaters are not a safe place right now.
The bottom line is that releasing a movie nationwide in the United States right now, on any level, is an iffy prospect, and it's nice to see Moorhead, Benson, and Lawson placing public safety concerns over the box office health of their relatively small film. As they note in their statement, Synchronic will likely be moving to VOD soon enough.