Flashback, formerly titled the much more distinct The Education of Frederick Fitzell, is strange, bizarre, stunningly edited and complexly scripted. Dylan O’Brien, one of my favorite young actors, gets another starring vehicle in a role decidedly different from anything he has done before. The timeline doesn’t hold hands with the audience, but would certainly reward subsequent viewings after the absolutely bonkers third act. When Flashback finally provides some answers to the unravelling mysteries, it becomes all the more fascinating and complicated.
Frederick Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) starts having horrifying visions of a girl from his past who mysteriously disappeared back in high school. Cindy (Maika Monroe) never graduated, and she vanished right around the time this mystery drug Mercury (“merc”) was going around. Frederick reaches out to his old friend Sebastian (Emory Cohen), who he hasn’t even seen in the thirteen years since Cindy’s disappearance. Frederick can’t stop thinking about the missing girl and starts having flashbacks to the time he spent with her. Frederick loses his grip on reality as the visions and separate timelines converge into one wildly unpredictable mindfuck.
The stylish flair of writer/director Christopher MacBride ripples through every frame. A deep purple that Fred contemplates for a new bathroom color is revealed to be the same color as Cindy’s back tattoo. Emphasis on the disparate, but similar, shot composition provides a visual feast for the senses. Flashback should probably come with its own seizure warning, as the strobing effects and weird trippy visuals become increasingly intense. The editing is visceral and thrilling. Philosophical dialogue about realities, giving labels to the infinite, and meditations of death and the meaning of life are engrossing in a way that makes you think.
As much as Flashback is a thrilling drama with a touch of sci-fi, this is a film fully driven by the strength of its unraveling complexities. It induces anxiety and confusion as the mysteries are answered without spelling them out for the more casual viewer. For Flashback, similar to movies like Donnie Darko and The Matrix, you really need to pay close attention to absorb every bit of it. It rewards the close attention with a slow-burn setup leading to a jaw-dropping conclusion. It is a bold and brilliant indie led by a terrific ensemble, and Dylan O’Brien (who is playing a teenage high-schooler for maybe the final time) at his frantic, disheveled best.
Flashback arrives in theaters and on VOD June 4th, followed by Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital on June 8th.