Flashback is a mind-bending psychological thriller that infinitely stretches our notions of time and space into a complex puzzle with no exit.
There are films that are good for their plot, and then there are films that are good for their cinematography. Flashback is one that sits well with either – the plot is puzzling enough to keep the viewer interested throughout (even if the denouement happens quite early on), and the cinematography is what keeps it thrilling, interesting and terrifying at the same time. What could have been a Hollywood trope of a film about a mysterious drug turns into a mind-bending and mind-boggling intricate psychological puzzle that keeps the viewer constantly second guessing the plot’s direction and the protagonist’s reliability. It is a slow burn that, within minutes, turns faster than the speed of light.
In Flashback, we meet Fredrick Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien, The Maze Runner) who is starting out his adult life with a new promising job as a data information analyst at a big company. Fredrick and his stunning girlfriend Karen (Hannah Gross, Joker, Mindhunter) have also just bought a new apartment which they are in a slow and steady process of renovating. From one day to the next, Fredrick starts having horrendous hallucinations and flashbacks of Cindy (Maika Monroe, It Follows, The Guest), a girl he used to go to school with and who vanished before she got to do her final exams. He soon realises her disappearance ties in with a drug called Mercury, which they used to take in high school.
In order to make sense of his gruesome and terrifying flashbacks, Fredrick reaches out to his old friends and embarks on a mental journey deep into his repressed memories of space and time to try and find Cindy, and to learn the truth. With only a small cast of characters, Flashback manages to construct a world where “could be’s” turn into various plot threads, and, the closer Fredrick comes to the truth, the more alienating and unreliable the truth becomes. In fact, by the end of the film I was utterly confused if there was even a truth to the events that had enfolded, and it had not just all played in Fredrick’s head during a massive drugged out trip.
What starts as a subtle distortion in the perception of reality, through sound and smoothly transitioning images between past and present, soon turns into full blown narrative threads, and scenes in which every plotline is the truth for that specific scene. The intricate web that director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy) creates is a highly cinematic work of art in sound (Rob Bertola, Georgetown, Our House) and cinematography (Brendan Steacy, Titans, Alias Grace). With the pulsing of Fredrick’s heart as the beating core of the film’s narrative, Flashback unnervingly displays the power of memory and our brain’s capacity to fill in the gaps. The visualization of the effects of the Mercury drug are a particularly effective testimony of how film can be high class art.
Known for the Maze Runner franchise and Teen Wolf, heartthrob Dylan O’Brien here features in a vastly more otherworldly and emotive role than before seen. The perfect balance between just-out-of-high-school and starting-up-in-an-adult life, he fits in extremely well with the character of Fredrick, who can exist in all places at once and is not bound by past, present and future. O’Brien performance is so good, that, at times, I even wondered if the actor himself knew what was going on in the film. His physical response of going through the flashbacks, combined with his more and more unhinged reactions to what he sees in them, stunningly detail what it means to lose your mind to your own mind.
Flashback has all the markings of a true psychological thriller that will stay with you for many nights to come. It is a mind-bending puzzle of time and space that is a thrilling mix between Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Memento. The more intricate the plot becomes, the more the cinematography takes the upper hand in the narrating of the story. This can lead to what is, at times, a dazzling compilation of blinding lights and terrifying spliced images that will haunt you more than the actual idea of a drug like Mercury existing. Flashback is not a film for those who react badly to jump scares, blinding lights and distortions. The film artfully masters how to visualize the experience of a bad trip. Flashback’s depiction of how mind-bending drugs can be serves as an educational experience for the younger generation – don’t do drugs, kids.
Vertigo Releasing presents Flashback on digital platforms 4 June 2021.
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