Dylan O'Brien takes a mind-bending reality trip in the psychedelic Flashback. Which I can best describe as a twisted combination of The Butterfly Effect, Limitless, and Synchronic. The film is a near constant barrage of quick cut edits, bizarre imagery, and slow motion trail effects. The mystery at its core comes into focus as the antagonist experiences a crisis of consciousness. Flashback is enthralling to see, but becomes a casualty of its own convoluted storyline in the final act.
Flashback begins with Fred Fitzell (Dylan O'Brien) and his longtime girlfriend, Karen (Hannah Gross), receiving terrible news. His beloved mother (Liisa Repo-Martell) has suffered a catastrophic brain injury. Fred struggles to cope with her tragic diagnosis. His life has settled into a comfortable rut. He and Karen have moved into a new apartment. He's started a well-paying corporate job as an information analyst.
A strange encounter while stuck in traffic sparks a repressed memory from high school. He becomes obsessed with finding Cindy Williams (Maika Monroe), a former classmate that has seemingly disappeared. When Fred tracks down his old friends (Emory Cohen, Keir Gilchrist), they also have no memory of Cindy after a fateful night. Fred starts to experience disturbing visions. His life starts to crumble as he digs deeper for Cindy. He soon realizes that his youthful experimentation with a powerful drug has led to an alarming possibility.
Writer/director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy) unloads a torrent of sensation while building his complex narrative. As Fred remembers past events, they start to mix with his current reality. There are scenes where the dialogue cuts to a new time period after every word. It's a fluid process, but strange because the characters switch back and forth nearly instantly to how they looked at that specific point. It's an intriguing approach that sucks you further into the plot. Flashback gets too wacky when MacBride starts to incorporate strobe effects. Anyone with photosensitive epilepsy should steer clear of this film.
The portrayal of drug addiction is not the primary focus, but well-realized. Christopher MacBride's depiction of sustained drug use, its culture, and aftermath is spot on. The irony is that he's not making an anti or pro drug statement. The drug they use is never judged in the script. But the director shows quite accurately where drugs lead. It's kind of like a bonus warning to his time-traveling, trippy narrative.
Flashback loses steam about two-thirds of the way through. The visual tricks become blasé once the mystery is revealed. The ending makes sense, but I had honestly lost interest in the existential gibberish by then. Dylan O'Brien is amazing as usual. His film choices are unique, thoughtful, and entertaining. Everything he's done as a headline actor since The Maze Runner trilogy has not disappointed. Flashback was previously titled The Education of Fredrick Fitzell. The film is a production of Resolute Films and Addictive Pictures. It is currently available to stream on demand and digitally with a Blu-ray/DVD release on June 8th from Lionsgate.