REVIEW: Flashback (2020)

dir. Christopher MacBride

Fred Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) is at a pivotal moment in his life: he’s recently started a new job – a corporate role that takes him further from the artistic ambitions of his youth – and his mother has just been given a terminal diagnosis, the doctor warning she may only have a few days left. Distraught, Fred veers out of traffic and down an alley in an attempt to find a shortcut, only to be approached by a stranger who speaks a few disjointed words to him. It’s an encounter that triggers an intense flashback in which he sees Cindy (Maika Monroe: It Follows; The Guest), a friend from high school. The vision inspires Fred to try and find her, but he soon discovers that she never graduated and has been missing for 15 years. Enlisting the help of old school friends Sebastian (Emory Cohen) and Andre (Keir Gilchrist), Fred delves further into their shared past: but as the investigation continues his flashbacks become more frequent and lucid, the boundaries between past, present and future starting to blur.

Exploring the intimate connection between our present selves and past actions Flashback plays with how forgotten historical events can suddenly become vividly real again. As Fred jumps back and forth along the timeline of his life, he seems to have Butterfly Effect-style moments of choice, scenarios playing out that vary depending on his decisions.

In sections set in the characters’ high school years there’s a neo-noir feel, employing a number of the genre’s tropes: intrigue surrounding a femme fatale, with Fred in the detective role; mysterious figures offering cryptic advice; and illicit dealings with a hallucinogenic drug. This lends an element of escapism to the flashbacks – Fred’s life in his thirties is full of the serious but ordinary responsibilities of adulthood, while his re-lived (or possibly reimagined) teenage years revolve around exciting new experiences. Cindy is (literally) the “one that got away” and in his pursuit of her Fred also seems to be chasing the possibility of adventure and exploration. Cindy often seems more like the representation of an ideal type than an actual person: in one flashback she is almost a parody of a disaffected teenager, despairing over people living mundane lives and exhorting Fred to seize the moment. 

On a technical level the film-craft throughout is superb: despite flitting suddenly between different timelines (and possibly different realities) the story is always coherent, ensuring the viewer is never left adrift. Editor Matt Lyon deserves a special mention here: the time jumps are shown via perfectly aligned match cuts which enhance the feeling that the past and future are becoming more and more tightly bound. One sequence in particular stitches together dozens of seemingly random moments from the film into a unified whole, bringing to light a hidden narrative whilst also showcasing the power of imaginative editing.  

Although riddled with mind-bending twists MacBride continually roots the narrative in the characters’ lives, ensuring that the sci-fi never overshadows the emotional resonance, inviting the audience to interpret the tangled threads of Fred’s timeline for themselves. The result is ambitious and confident: a tale that will doubtless reward repeated viewings.

Melissa Cox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: