Written and Directed by Christopher MacBride.
Starring Dylan O’Brien, Maika Monroe, Hannah Gross, Emory Cohen, Keir Gilchrist, Amanda Brugel, Josh Cruddas, and Liisa Repo-Martell.
Frederick Fitzell is living his best life—until he starts having horrific visions of Cindy, a girl who vanished in high school. After reaching out to old friends with whom he used to take a mystery drug called Mercury, Fredrick realizes the only way to stop the visions lies deep within his own memories, so he embarks on a terrifying mental odyssey to learn the truth.
Flashback (originally titled The Education of Fredrick Fitzell) mixes striking visual parallels (credit to cinematographer Brendan Steacy for rising to the occasion and providing one of the only elements here that work) with a head-scratching loopy narrative, striving and failing to derive emotional impact from its methodical style. Written and directed by Christopher MacBride (making his sophomore feature here following The Conspiracy), the film assuredly comes across as esoteric and uncompromising, and even somewhat tedious at times during the extended moody preamble to the realization of what’s going on with the structure of the story. It also remains just atmospheric enough with the potential to, at any second, get irresistibly weird. Things definitely get strange but are always resistible unless you actively crave cracking puzzles that might not even mean anything clever or deep.
Dylan O’Brien is Fredrick Fitzell, seen across two different life stages; a senior in high school getting distracted from essential exams to hang out with the mysterious Cindy (Maika Monroe, feeling wasted here as a character but no doubt proving to be a reliable force on the same idiosyncratic wavelength as Christopher MacBride), and as a young adult working a job in data analytics while moving into a new apartment alongside his partner Karen (Hannah Gross). There’s more going on, such as his sickly mother (played by Liisa Repo-Martell) losing her memory. However, that depressing situation is not what’s taking his mind off of a big presentation he is preparing for work, but rather Cindy again (see, it’s very much a movie about juxtapositions), whom he still has visions about, especially after unpacking an old yearbook where he scribbled out her photograph. Why did he do it? Where did she go? Why has he never spoke to her again?
This is where we start to see more, well flashbacks, showing that Frederick had been hanging out with Sebastian and Andre, (Emory Cohen and Keir Gilchrist, respectively) to move into the presence of the enigmatic Cindy, a dynamic that sees the group trying out a new drug called Mercury, subsequently trying to score a non-distilled and pure version of the same substance. As an adult, Frederick decides to reconnect with the same friends, both of whom have never seen Cindy again after a night of what brief jolts and glimpses express a horrific drug trip.
Naturally, they push against Frederick’s inquiries about what could have happened to her and where life has taken her, yet also speak in hidden clues alluding to the answer. It’s also here where the script takes its time (perhaps too much), laying out clues and setting the stage for intrigue (especially considering most people will have an idea of what the twist is going to be like), and frustratingly doesn’t give these characters much depth beyond the impressionable performances.
Nevertheless, just when it feels like one might be ready to tap out of Flashback, the effects of the drug are shown, and, as a result, the narrative spirals into trippy lunacy aiming towards themes of familial healing, unfulfilling work, and relationships, all explored within the concept of time. That’s probably where an assessment of the plot should end for now, but those who want to check out something unabashedly bizarre will either find much to embrace or hate within something this confounding containing awkward philosophical musings. But at least there is memorable shot composition (and some visual effects that, while wacky and cool, might start to induce a headache if the scenes lasted any longer).
Flashback is not necessarily profound by any means (characterization doesn’t even feel like a thought, let alone an afterthought). Still, it’s an admirable stab at something challenging and imaginative that never pays off, primarily because it’s never clear what’s going on or what is meant to be taken from it beyond vague surface-level readings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com