Flashback review – confusing but compelling multiverse thriller

If Slaughterhouse-Five and Donnie Darko had a baby, and that baby grew up in the 2000s, became a teenager and then developed a bit of a substance abuse problem, went partying with Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy and that Ashton Kutcher movie The Butterfly Effect, developed memory loss and depression, then it might look something like this interesting but rather muddled Canadian science fiction film.

Dylan O’Brien, an actor in his late 20s who is fortuitously baby-faced enough to be cast as a high-school senior, stars as Fred, a guy who seems to have come a bit unstuck in time. At first, things seem normal as he goes about his life as an IT office drone, working under tough boss Evelyn (Amanda Brugel, looking more glam here than she usually does in The Handmaid’s Tale) and living with his nice but somewhat dull partner Karen (Hannah Gross). But the increasing dementia of his mother (Liisa Repo-Martell) and memories triggered by old photographs gets Fred thinking about his wild teenage years.

Back then, Fred and his buddies did a faddish drug called Mercury, and Fred was crushing on an emo girl named Cindy (Maika Monroe from It Follows) who sat in front of him in maths class. But what seem at first like, per the film’s title, flashbacks turn out to be moments Fred is living in simultaneously. Or maybe they are another type of flashback: hallucinations induced by Mercury. Either way, these visual fragments start to piece together, quite literally, in a near-blur of superfast edits and the nature of Fred’s reality becomes a little clearer.

Some viewers may need a second screening or more to work out what the hell is actually going on, especially with the EDM playing in the background in some scenes. Nevertheless, this pulpy multiverse brain-teaser is reasonably compelling to watch – at least in this reality. In another, it’s straight to video garbage, and in yet another, it’s won the Palme d’Or.

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