Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 3, 2021)
Movies that dabble in forms of time travel never seem to go out of style. For another in this genre, we head to 2020’s Flashback.
Distracted by his mother’s (Liisa Repo-Martell) mental and physical decline, Fred Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) stumbles into an encounter with Sebastian (Emory Cohen), an old high school classmate. This event also coincides with Fred’s visions of his past.
In particular, Fred recalls Cindy Williams (Maika Monroe), a girl who vanished before graduation. Fred explores his past and tries to piece together events, with an emphasis on the potential impact a strong drug called Mercury may have left on him and others.
Sometimes when I write a plot synopsis, I can come up with my brief overview pretty quickly and easily. Flashback forced me to work for my summary.
While this aforementioned recap may offer the impression that Flashback offers a straightforward narrative, that doesn’t occur. Instead, the movie follows a trippy path that takes its own sweet time in terms of any kind of clear exposition.
I don’t inherently view this as a negative, for a film can create intrigue without concise character and story development. I can appreciate a movie that requires the viewer to stick with it and put together the pieces after thought and deliberation.
That said, Flashback can veer toward the frustrating side of the street for an awfully long span. The story remains so loose and off-kilter for so long that the viewer – or at least this viewer – begins to want something a little more concrete.
If you ever said “Donnie Darko wasn’t confusing enough for me”, you seem likely to dig Flashback. While both share stylistic and thematic domains, at least Darko offers plenty of reasonably straightforward material interspersed with the trippy moments.
On the other hand, Flashback consists almost entirely of “the trippy moments”. Though we occasionally get more grounded scenes – Fred at work, Fred with his mother, Fred with his girlfriend Karen (Hannah Gross) – most of the flick comes across as loose and without much connection to logical storytelling.
Which obviously was the desire of writer/director Christopher MacBride. He came up with a very ambitious story here.
Unfortunately, he tells the movie in such a way that most viewers will need explanations to make sense of it. In the disc’s audio commentary, MacBride does just that, as the majority of his discussion simply explains what we see.
As much as I admire the scope and ambition of this project, the end result largely leaves me cold, just because so much of the film seems willfully obtuse. When a movie requires the filmmaker to offer a long explanation of what it shows, it fails on a certain level.
To some people, this will make Flashback a dark, dynamic exploration. For others, it will end up as an incomprehensible mess.
I find myself between those two poles, as I can respect the movie’s goals/ambitions but find myself left cold by the approach. Flashback swings for the fences but doesn’t quite get there.