With Love & Monsters having been so well received on Netflix, Dylan O’Brien has gotten his 2021 off to a great start, and his new movie, Flashback, looks set to continue his good fortune. A completely different kind of beast to Love & Monsters, Flashback places O’Brien into the world of a dark psychological science-fiction mystery. He stars as Fred, a young man whose life seems to be on track. He has a loving girlfriend and has just been hired for a new job. His relatively peaceful existence is then thrown into turmoil after he begins to remember a girl, Cindy (Maika Monroe), who went missing back when he was in high school. As he becomes fixated on finding out what happened to her, his life and mind begin to unravel; it seems that a recreational drug from his past, Mercury, may be to blame.
Flashback is the truest example of a ‘down the rabbit-hole’ movie. The viewer is placed firmly into Fred’s perspective and joins him on his journey into the puzzling unknown. Time becomes fluid and it quickly becomes difficult to figure out when and where events are unfolding. It’s a perfect representation of Fred’s own experience, but one that makes for a rather disorientating watch for the audience. Trying to keep track of exactly what is happening and why is a bewildering challenge, and with Flashback taking a long time to reveal its true self, some watchers will become lost along the way. Those they do hang in there, however, will be treated to a delightfully intricate riddle of paradoxical and philosophical ideals. Flashback is not a film you watch just once and know everything, this is a film that requires multiple viewings to be able to fully comprehend and digest the complexities it is hiding.
O’Brien is compelling to watch as Fred, once again proving himself to be one of the most consistent actors working at the moment. After his success in Teen Wolf and the The Maze Runner franchise, O’Brien could have spent the next few years coasting through on generic fodder, but his involvement here proves that he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Fred is unlike any character we’ve seen from O’Brien before and yet he manages to embody the role beautifully. He has an exceptionally hard task being the audience’s only constant and reference to time from scene to scene, and he manages to keep you with him all the way to the end.
Writer and director Christopher MacBride could have opted to let the story speak for itself, setting it within a generic-looking world. MacBride instead infuses the visual landscape of the film with some lovely world-building flourishes. Science-fiction films tend to be either super slick or super dirty in appearance, with Flashback falling into the latter category. There’s a thick level of grim to some key components, the location of the teens drug-taking not only looking dim, dingy and dangerous, but feeling it too. Other more ordinary settings such as work, school, and home, etc., are all bathed in yellow hues, casting dark shadows across the screen and aiding that sensation of venturing into the dark unknown.
Matt Lyon’s editing work is integral to portraying the disordered timeline coherently, the flipping back and forth is seamless and really requires the viewer’s full attention. Lyon’s work really shines within the drug-induced sequences. The picture literally judders and distorts the image, offering a new and interesting demonstration of chemical hallucination in film. These mesmerising visual techniques come accompanied by some clever sound design, which again appears to judder and a haunting and intense score. Composer Pilotpriest is fast becoming one to keep an ear on as, along with his work on Come True (which he also directed), Flashback offers an outstanding aural journey.
Although narratively it shares some building blocks with both The Butterfly Effect and Limitless, Flashback remains it’s own unique, and slightly niche, perplexing puzzle. MacBride takes time unveiling the film’s true intentions, sowing vast elements of mystery whilst inducing massive levels of bewilderment, leading to a rather disorientating viewing experience. Although this approach may lose some along the way, those with a thirst for a challenging psychological thriller will love the dense layers in which the movie is shrouded within. Repeat viewings are vital, each revealing aspects that were missed the time before.
Vertigo Releasing presents Flashback on digital platforms 4 June 2021.
A bewildering, but brilliantly dark and mysterious journey through the science-fiction psychological thriller.