Flashback Review: A time loop mystery that struggles to keep viewers in the loop
Flashback is a twisty time loop mystery that has good performances and solid ideas but struggles to keep you looped into what’s happening.
The film follows a young man named Fred (Dylan O’Brien) who’s drifting through his normal life as his mother (Lisa Repo-Martell) suffers from a serious condition that’s heavily affected her memory. As he goes through major life changes like starting a new job and moving in with his girlfriend Karen (Hannah Gross), Fred begins to have flashbacks of a girl he knew in high school named Cindy (Maika Monroe) that vanished in his senior year. Now with the flashbacks becoming more and more frequent and his realities beginning to blend, Fred falls down a trippy rabbit hole that uncovers the truth behind Cindy’s disappearance that are tied to the effects of a mysterious drug named Mercury they used to use.
To be frank, this is a film that shouldn’t be as intriguing as it is since it really isn’t delivering the kind of thrills to keep you hooked. For most of the film, it’s hard to even remotely tell where things are going or even what the hell is happening. You’re just constantly watching Fred aimlessly float between the past and present through flashbacks without any sort of direction or understanding of where things are going. The character relationships are super thin so even when Fred reunites with someone from his past in the present, the impact of the interaction isn’t all that strong. There are no real scares or thrills that deliver this mind-blowing wallop, so the film ends up being kind of a long drag that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The film also overuses stylistic flashing and strobing effects to a nauseating extent. There’s definitely an attempt to make this blending of past and present a little trippier through strobes and some fast-paced editing that can be effective in doses, but it ends up being too much. All this obnoxious strobing and constant cutting is really going to do is induce an epileptic seizure and it just makes certain parts teeter on being completely unwatchable. Yet, even with the film having so many things working against it, Flashback ends up still being solid as there are good elements to it that are able to make you stay interested.
O’Brien is a solid lead through this mysterious trip down the rabbit hole as he makes Fred’s inquisitiveness and fears of his reality falling apart easy to connect with. He also elevates the more dramatic turns in the film really well and makes the film’s big reveals really impactful. Monroe is also solid here as this mysterious figure that’s constantly stringing you along and has some good moments even though the film doesn’t utilize her all that much.
There are also some great transitions between past and present that blend the two together well and recapture your interest. From transitions that evoke vibes of 13 Reasons Why to certain moments where the past and present start to bleed into one another, there are little moments that keep your attention and make the mystery remain interesting. It’s also great how the film captures Fred just jumping back to the present and the passage of time. Although he might be at work when he’s initially sucked into a flashback, hours, even days can pass before Fred comes out of it and he could be in a totally different situation. These sudden passages of time really establish the power of these flashbacks and how detached from reality Fred has become.
The film’s big reveal of the connection these flashbacks have to this mysterious drug Mercury is actually really impactful and kind of mind-blowing. The way everything pieces together is satisfying and the effect it has on Fred is genuinely impactful. The film transitions to being about finding Cindy to Fred gaining a better understanding of himself in a great way and it’s kind of emotional. O’Brien’s performance is definitely doing most of the heavy lifting to make it work since the narrative of Fred’s big realization is never exactly clear, but the big turn working like it does makes at least most of the aimlessness of the film a little more worth it. It’s a reveal that’s super fitting for the psychological tone of the film and gives it great shades of mind-melters like The Butterfly Effect.
Flashback certainly won’t be for everyone, and its obnoxiously unrelenting style and lack of story direction will likely struggle to keep people around to get to its best parts. However, those curious enough to fall into its time loop rabbit hole will find some interesting, mind-melting psychological thrills.