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FLASHBACK (2021) Review

Neil reviews FLASHBACK praising Dylan O’Brien for a “career best performance” in the “captivatingly non-linear” story.

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Flashback (Vertigo Releasing)

Directed by Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy), Flashback stars Dylan O’Brien, Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Guest), Hannah Gross (MindhunterJoker), Emory Cohen (The OA, Brooklyn) and Keir Gilchrist (It Follows, Atypical). Vertigo Releasing presents Flashback on digital platforms 4 June 2021

Synopsis

Fred Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) is a man on the precipice of adulthood. With a new corporate job, a long-time girlfriend (Hannah Gross) pressuring him to define their future, and an ailing mother, Fred’s whole life changes when a chance encounter with a man from his youth results in terrifying flashbacks that send him on a wild journey into his past. As he slowly attempts to piece together his fragmented recollections about taking an experimental drug called Mercury, his mind begins to unravel…

Review

It’s been 9 years since writer/director Christopher MacBride released The Conspiracy. With that film he proved himself more than capable of crafting visually striking, non-conformal narratives. With Flashback (formerly The Education of Fredrick Fitzell) MacBride continues that trend through some truly psychedelic visuals.

The story of Fred Fitzell (O’Brien) starts out in a fairly straightforward manner. Though the narrative is non-linear, it follows a set of well defined points in his life. Time spent with is mother as her health declines. His tearaway teenage years. Lastly, his relationship with fiancé Karen (Hannah Gross). There’s a palpable monotony, a sense of Groundhog Day, to his present life. It’s the kind of lifelessness which drives Fred to memories of his teenage years.

When memories of his first love Cindy (Maika Monroe) surface, Fred begins to lose his grip on time. Taking cues from Donnie Darko and The Butterfly Effect, Flashback leaves Fred unstuck for much of its 90min runtime. Consumed by Cindy’s disappearance, Fred is compelled to repeat past events out of sync. His fragmented experience provides the perfect analogy for his mother’s dementia. There were moments I thought the film may reveal both mother and son suffered from similar conditions.

Dylan O’Brien gives a career best performance as Fred. His babyface providing him the ability to play adolescent and present day Fred is certainly a benefit. But far beyond his looks, O’Brien is more than capable of handling MacBride’s complex material. Flashback offers O’Brien the chance to flex his dramatic muscles far more than the more comedic Love & Monsters for instance. His portrayal of various outcomes in Fred’s life are credible and unexpectedly compelling.

The film also benefits from the fresh faces of its supporting cast. Maika Monroe, Emory Cohen and Keir Gilchrist all perform in multiple time periods. This approach adds a level of authenticity in the story which audiences will easily appreciate. MacBride’s casting choices tell the story of a writer/director who makes meticulous choices. Those choices compound the realisation of the complex narrative.

Monroe is outstanding as Cindy. Her role in the story often flexes to meet the needs of a scene. She varies from high school love interest to potential figment of imagination. But she is also rarely far from the centre of the narrative. Even when off-screen her presence is strongly felt as a motivator for Fred. Cindy also fulfils a role similar to Frank in Donnie Darko. Monroe’s razor-sharp performance adds further integrity to the story.

Like Synchronic which came earlier in 2021, Flashback puts a faddish drug – Mercury – at its centre. The concept is simple, the execution is complex and nuanced. Mercury may allow the user to navigate through time at will. Or it may simply be the hallucination of a drug-addled mind. The two potential realities are what drives the film to its exceptionally emotional conclusion. Circling back to Darko and Butterly, it’s the beauty of ambiguity which will leave Flashback playing on viewers minds.

Verdict

Flashback is captivating in its non-linear approach to storytelling. Complex but never convoluted, it tells a story which is equal parts challenging and emotional. Bolstered by a career best performance by Dylan O’Brien it is one of 2021’s must-see sci-fi tinged thrillers.


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