Review: Flashback Is a Twisting, Non-Linear Mystery That’s Both Messy and Unpredictable

Fredrick Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien, from The Maze Runner films) is living a pretty good life. He’s just gotten a new job as a systems analyst and moved into a new place with his significant other Karen (Hannah Gross, Joker). The downside to his current existence is that his mother Evelyn (Amanda Brugel, The Handmaid’s Tale) is slowly dying and barely able to communicate, which is tough for Fred to deal with. Then while caught in traffic, he decides to drive the wrong way down a one-way street (likely a metaphor for everything that follows) and encounters a homeless man that he first met as a high school student, on a night that changed his life and he has since completely forgotten. The rest of Flashback concerns the trippy journey Fred takes through his fractured memories to not only piece together his past, but also his present and future, which is not nearly as simple as it sounds.

Image courtesy of the film

Remembering parts of that night lead Fred to recall a girl named Cindy (Maika Monroe, from It Follows and The Guest), whom he found appealing and mysterious. Through the limited encounters he had with her in and out of school, he found her wise, daring and perhaps reckless. Fred was an extremely straight-laced kid, but thanks to interactions with Cindy and her drug-dealer friend and fellow student Sebastian (Emory Cohen, Brooklyn), they all begin to take a low-grade dose of a new drug called Mercury. No one seems to know exactly what Mercury does to you, but it seems to turn everyone into philosophers, conspiracy theorists, or worst of all, hippies.

The two timelines of Fred’s life seem to have strange parallels. Getting into drugs jeopardizes his good grades, while attempting to remember that period in his life threatens his adult job. Before long, the present-day Fred reunites with Sebastian as well as his old best friend Andre (Keir Gilchrist), who was also there on that fateful night, and all three slowly begin to realize that none of them have seen Cindy since that night, when most of them took a full, uncut dose of Mercury for the first time.

What starts out as something of a mystery turns into something far more obtuse as Flashback hurls us into themes of memory, time as a construct, and the idea that maybe people are able to change the course of their lives at any point even after certain key events have happened. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out what is real and what isn’t, although I found the film makes the most sense if you just assume everything you’re seeing is genuine and not some sort of fever dream or drug trip or insanity. By doing this, it also becomes clear that the movie is a science-fiction story that isn’t exactly told like one, which is probably the one thing that kept me interested in it.

Flashback can also be exceedingly frustrating if you’re addicted to linear narrative storytelling—and linear narrative life-living for that matter. O’Brien spends the majority of the movie looking confused and tired. Thankfully, Monroe does a great deal of the heavy emotional lifting here and her character’s stability makes the pretzel-logic story a bit easier to follow. The movie comes courtesy of writer/director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy), who certainly has no issues in the ambition department, which is both a good and bad thing. For roughly the first half of the film, I thought I was simply watching a story about a guy going crazy from nostalgia-mining his own life, and while the second half of Flashback is far more interesting, there’s a lot of movie to get through until that point. I tend to give movies that aren’t predictable a bit of a break, simply because I can predict the endings of 90 percent of what I see in a given year (and that’s not a complaint; it’s just a fact). I had no idea where this twisty, lunatic tale was going—for 50 percent of it, I didn’t really care. But it finishes strong, which is the opposite of so many films.

The film is now playing theatrically and will be available on home video on June 8.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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