The Mind is a Tool of Torture in ‘Flashback’

A still from 'Flashback'. Fred (Dylan O'Brien) is shown centre frame, in close up, crying. His mouth is slightly agape and his brow furrowed, there is a light behind his left ear.
Vertigo Releasing

Christopher MacBride’s Flashback is a vertigo-inducing piece that explores the consequences of our choices, and whether or not the reality we’re living is the one we’re meant to choose.

Dylan O’Brien stars as Fredrick Fitzell, a young man caught between circumstances – his mother is suffering from Alzheimers and has only days to live, he’s just started a new job in data analytics despite harboring a childhood love of visual arts, and his long-time girlfriend Karen (Hannah Gross), of whom he lives with, believes he’s doing ‘really well’ despite events and talks of starting a family. As the mundane days blur together, Fred becomes plagued with flashbacks of his past, specifically of a girl named Cindy Williams (Maika Monroe), who went missing before their high school graduation. Her disappearance occurred at the same time a dangerous drug called Mercury was in circulation at the school. One day, Fred’s mind reveals to him that, after he agreed to hide a bag of contraband for him in his final year, Sebastian (Emory Cohen), the school’s drug dealer, introduced Fred to Cindy and Andre (Keir Gilchrist), and the four of them ended up bonding whilst getting high on Mercury. 

As Fred’s flashbacks grow in volume and assault his consciousness at an alarming rate, he begins to go back down memory lane with the help of Sebastian and Andre, with whom he rekindles his friendship, needing to piece together what happened to Cindy. But realities begin to collide, and Fred is left confused, lost and scared, caught between the prison of the past and the present, tipping further and further towards the brink of insanity . . . that is, unless he’s already there. “We gotta’ remember,” Fred says, but is that truly wise? Ignorance may be considered bliss for a reason . . . Riddled with symbols, sudden scene transitions and choppy visuals, Flashback showcases a mind fragmented and just how susceptible one is to its wanderings.

A still from 'Flashback'. Fred (Dylan O'Brien) has his back to the camera, talking to Cindy (Maika Monroe) in a basement. The image is darkly lit and Cindy's face is menacing.
Vertigo Releasing

Overall, the film is slow and gritty, weighed down with a bleak nostalgia. The dialogue is simplistic and the story as a whole is strange and dragging, relying too much on randomly interspersed visuals, chaotic sounds and unchecked emotional baggage to properly unfold. It tries too hard to be alternative and ends up meandering all over the place. Each new scene is characterised by a sparseness and a dreary moodiness that leaves no room for hope to seep through and encourage the characters in their pursuits. 

Cast wise, it’s very clear that O’Brien is the most talented; even if his skills are wholly under-utilised, he brings a humanity, an understated, horribly beautiful sense of rawness to the piece, much as he has done for the rest of his filmography. The supporting members are hardly charming and their chemistry with O’Brien’s Fred isn’t built from comradery but rather a ‘to-hell-with-it’ kind of nonchalance. Not to mention that none of the actors look remotely high school aged, regardless of their baggy clothing or smeary goth makeup made popular in the early 2000s. 

By the time the film hits the hour mark, it’s hard to imagine that there’s still enough worth telling for another forty minutes. Sometimes, MacBride’s piece is creepy, and perhaps Flashback would’ve been a more elevated work if he had chosen to focus on the inherent horror embedded within the plot, or on the personal drama surrounding Fred and his struggle to realise which reality he’s currently living. Borrowing aspects from The Matrix, Limitless, The Machinist and Beautiful Boy even, Flashback is a jumbled film with too many irregular puzzle pieces, and it leaves viewers with a weird, displeasing aftertaste once it finally ends.

Flashback is available on VOD from June 4th

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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