Review: ‘Flashback’ (2021), starring Dylan O’Brien, Hannah Gross, Emory Cohen, Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe

June 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emory Cohen, Dylan O’Brien and Keir Gilchrist in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Flashback” (2021)

Directed by Christopher MacBride

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Flashback” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man in his early 30s tries to figure out why he’s having confusing nightmarish visions and memories of when he was in high school. 

Culture Audience: “Flashback” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent movies that are boring.

Maika Monroe in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The generically titled “Flashback” was originally titled “The Education of Frederick Fitzell.” There are at least three other feature films titled “Flashback,” and this one certainly won’t be considered the best. “Flashback” is an ironic title for this movie because it’s so forgettable. In addition to having an incoherent and nonsensical plot, “Flashback” is exceedingly monotonous and a waste of the film’s talented cast members, who have all been in much better movies.

“Flashback” is supposed to be a psychological thriller, but the only thrill anyone might feel is when this slow train wreck of a movie finally ends. It’s one of those movies that people might keep watching with the hope that it might get better or that the story’s big mystery might reveal interesting answers. But “Flashback” fails to deliver anything intriguing on almost every level.

Written and directed by Christopher MacBride, “Flashback” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed in Canada. The movie begins with Frederick “Fred” Fitzell (played by Dylan O’Brien) and his wife Karen (played by Hannah Gross) getting some bad news about Fred’s terminally ill, widowed mother (played by Liisa Repo-Martell), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Mrs. Fitzell’s physician Dr. Phillips (played by Donald Burda) informs Fred and Karen that Mrs. Fitzell has no more than two days to live.

The news is devastating, of course, but this movie then goes on a long and confused ramble about Fred’s hallucinations and flashback memories. Fred, who in his early 30s, has just started a new job as an information analyst at a company that does data analysis. Fred and Karen, who are happily married, have recently moved to a new apartment. They don’t have children but want to start a family.

Fred’s new job is the type where he has to wear a suit, and he works in a generically bland office in a generically bland cubicle. His boss Evelyn (played by Amanda Brugel) wants Fred to succeed, but recently he’s been slacking off by showing up late. And there’s a big upcoming presentation that he’s in charge of that Evelyn doubts that Fred will be able to handle. Fred assures her that he’s got everything under control.

What’s the reason for Fred being so distracted? He’s been having nightmarish hallucinations that involve memories of people he knew in high school. And some of the people in his hallucinations (which happen at various hours of the day or night) are people who are strangers to him.

One day, while Fred is in his car in an alley, he sees one of the strangers from his hallucinations—a scarred man (played by Connor Smith), who aggressively approaches the car. Fred is able to drive off before anything bad happens. The other strangers who regularly appear in his hallucinations are a tattooed woman (played by Maika Harper), a horned man (played by Ian Matthews), a pierced man (played by Aaron Poole) and a 12-year-old boy (played by Andrew Latter), who likes to wear hoodies.

The boy talks to Fred by saying one word with each sighting, like a message that Fred needs to put together. In one of the boy’s messages, he says, “I’m in your lobby.” When Fred goes to his apartment building’s lobby, he’s led on the type of wild goose chase that this movie is filled with, as time-wasting gimmicks.

One of the people Fred knew from high school was a former love interest named Cindy (played by Maika Monroe), whom Fred hasn’t seen or spoken to in the 13 years since he was in high school. Cindy keeps appearing in his dreams in a scenario where she seems to be in distress and says, “Fred, don’t let me go.” Fred can’t shake the feeling that Cindy is in danger.

He goes home to look at his high school yearbooks and notices that one of the yearbooks has Cindy’s class photo marked over with a dark pen, so that her face isn’t showing. What does it all mean? Don’t expect “Flashback” to give any clear answers.

The rest of the movie is a combination of Fred’s flashback memories, more hallucinations and scenes of Fred struggling with his mental health when these visions become too much for him. Fred goes back to his alma mater Fairgate High School and talks to an elderly schoolteacher named Mrs. Shouldice (played by Jill Frappier), who knew Fred and Cindy when they went to the school. The teacher says that Cindy never graduated because she just disappeared with no forwarding address.

Mrs. Shouldice also mentions the fictional psychedelic pill drug Mercury, and that student use of the drug was like a rampant plague in the school back then. Somehow, this triggers Fred’s memories of his experiences taking Mercury (also known as Merc) with Cindy and two other students he used to hang out with in high school: sleazy drug dealer Sebastian Bellamy (played by Emory Cohen) and eccentric misfit Andre (played by Keir Gilchrist). Does Fred try to find these former classmates? Of course he does.

This movie wastes a lot of time with psychedelic hallucinations that don’t go anywhere. There are also flashback memories to Fred’s childhood when he was a baby (played by Parker Antal and Emmett Antal) and when he was 6 years old (played by Myles Isen), which don’t give much insight into his family background, except to show that his mother sometimes got impatient with him.

Fred’s present-day life is also shoddily written. In several scenes, it’s shown that he likes to draw sketches of people. He even sketches people during boring business meetings. Is Fred’s interest in art explained in the movie? No. It’s one of many examples of how “Flashback” has a frustrating tendency to introduce things that look like it might add depth to the characters or might bring some substance to the story, but it’s just another unnecessary distraction.

The actors’ performances in the movie aren’t terrible, but they look like they’re going through the motions and don’t really have any deep emotional connections to the characters they’re portraying. That’s because the dialogue is just so bland and often terribly written. The movie’s cinematography is frequently cheap-looking and ugly.

And no amount of editing tricks can cover up that this movie is just an insipid, muddled mess. “Flashback” isn’t completely useless though. The movie is so dull that it can actually be used as an effective way to fall asleep.

Lionsgate released “Flashback” in select U.S. cinemas and VOD on June 4, 2021, and on digital, Blu-ray and DVD on June 8, 2021.