In writer-director Christopher MacBride’s (The Conspiracy) Flashback, Freddie (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) is at a major turning point in his life. His mother is suffering from dementia and has forgotten who he is, and he’s given up on his artistic dreams for a bland corporate job. It’s at this point that a chance encounter with a strange man from his past brings back long-forgotten memories of his drug-addled youth and a girl, Cindy (It Follows’ Maika Monroe), he used to know, who mysteriously disappeared.
Compelled by these fractured visions, Freddie begins to retrace key events from his past to put the pieces together and solve the mystery of what happened to this girl. But strange coincidences and revelations start to suggest that there’s an underlying cosmic meaning to all of this. MacBride does an exceptional job at enticing audiences into the burgeoning intrigue. He drip-feeds the viewer clues through surrealist imagery and thoughtful dialogue that hints at the broader existential undercurrent running throughout the film. It’s all very odd, but it succeeds in grabbing attention.
Much of this success is down to editing and sound design that creates an uneasy, dreamlike atmosphere. Diegetic sounds connect one scene to the next, blurring the line between past and present. What is real or part of which timeline becomes more difficult to tell as Freddie travels further down this rabbit hole.
But then everything changes after the halfway mark, when answers start to be uncovered. The intrigue that was so carefully maintained is stripped away, leaving only muddled confusion in its wake. As the second half progresses, reality and causation collapse on themselves until both lose all meaning. By the time the credits roll nothing makes sense or matters. MacBride is trying to make a statement about something here. He puts a lot of effort into drawing connections between various key points for viewers not to pick up on what he’s doing. What exactly he’s trying to say, though, is unclear and will likely be lost on many.
The bizarre mystery that made the first half enjoyably fascinating is annihilated by the midpoint, turning the remainder of Flashback into an impenetrable metaphor. Perhaps in time MacBride’s second feature will garner a deeper appreciation when its meaning can be deciphered.
Flashback is released digitally on demand on 4th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Flashback here: