Synopsis – After a chance encounter with a man forgotten from his youth, Fred literally and metaphorically journeys into his past.
My Take – Over decades various filmmakers have been exercising their talents in different genres to explore the idea of how every decisions made in the present impact every tiny bit of future. A terrifying thought which has been dissected quite frequently in time loop films, indie dramas, horrors, thrillers, and even romantic comedies.
However, here, in his sophomore feature effort, following 2012’s enjoyable found footage conspiracy horror thriller The Conspiracy, writer-director Christopher MacBride seems confused about the tale he wants to sell on the idea. Taking inspirations from films like The Butterfly Effect (2004), Inception (2010), Limitless (2011) and to some extent The Matrix (1999), the film, originally titled The Education of Frederick Fritzell, at first starts out as a coming of age tale about letting go of your past until it changes its gears towards being a psychological thriller, and does well for itself initially, that is until it throws in a half cooked mystery drug sub plot and time travel elements into the mix, making it quite a tough film to get through.
Though it seems like director MacBride intended the film to be his version of an assured take on parallel realities while also being study of the elasticity of time and individual perceptions, none of the concepts he presents here are entirely justified and any question the film presents is just left open to interpretation from the audience’s point of view.
Sure, while the film is aesthetically appealing, has an interesting idea and is backed by director MacBride‘s strong conviction, it is not an easy one to assimilate, as despite relying heavily on visuals to convey the idea of time and place, it falls short of becoming significant in comparison to the films it seems to be heavily inspired from.
The story follows Fredrick “Fred” Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien), an average guy living quite the stressful life. While on one hand, he has recently scored a new job as a systems analyst in a big firm and moved into a new place with his significant other Karen (Hannah Gross), on the other hand, his mother Evelyn (Amanda Brugel) is slowly dying, losing her memory and barely able to communicate, making it quite tough for Fred to deal with.
However, the worse comes when distracted by a phone call in sketchy ally, Fred encounters a strange man, who ends up jogging his memories of events he didn’t remember before. Specifically of Cindy Williams (Maika Monroe), his mysterious former classmate who went missing before graduation. Unable to remember what happened to her, Fred finds himself obsessing about figuring out especially about one particular night, all the while destroying everything in his life in pursuit of answers.
The rest of the film concerns the strange journey Fred takes through his fractured memories to not only piece together his past, but also his present and future, which is not nearly as simple as it sounds, often leaving as disoriented as Fred throughout the film. To be honest, the film actually starts off quite intriguing, with the suspense surrounding Cindy’s whereabouts being the primary hook. Even though as a character we never really find out much about her, her beliefs and determination to experiment with the drug Mercury that plagued their high school, keeps Cindy mysterious hence an understandable obsession from a teenage boy’s point of view.
But what starts out as something of a mystery turns into something far more obtuse. The intrigue that was so carefully maintained is stripped away, leaving only muddled confusion in its wake.
As the second half progresses, the film hurls us into themes of memory, time as a construct, and the idea that maybe people are able to change the course of their lives at any point even after certain key events have happened. Making matters worse are the long stretches of dialogue and explanations that come off as incredibly pretentious. There are scenes between Fred and Cindy that are set-up to be insightful, meaningful moments that come across as the vapid babbling of any high school stoner. These scenes really detract from the film, taking away any of the abstract statement director MacBride is trying to make.
Even the climax is cluttered and messy. Though director MacBride executes the moment with quick cuts and striking imagery for effect, aiming to pull the rug from under you, it confuses further on, instead making you question Fred’s sanity. Personally, I found the film to make the most sense when I assumed everything as genuine and not a drug trip, however, by doing that I got the first grasp of what was going on, and just wanted the jarring final act to wrap up whatever it was trying to tell.
Performance wise, Dylan O’Brien carries the film effectively, switching properly between intensity and somber for its entire run time. Alongside O’Brien, Maika Monroe too despite an underwritten role manages to make most of her scenes. Unfortunately, the supporting cast comprising of Hannah Gross, Amanda Brugel, Emory Cohen and Keir Gilchrist are largely wasted. On the whole, ‘Flashback’ is an ambitious yet exceedingly frustrating thriller that is laborious to decipher.
Directed – Christopher MacBride
Rated – R
Run Time – 97 minutes