Sunday 29 December 2013

Flashback (2013)

Director: Steve Petersen
Stars: Walter Koenig, Judy Levitt, Tom Biagini, Shannon Murray and Karla Osella
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
The science fiction shorts at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival were notable both for their consistent quality and for the emotion they drew out of the audience. Films like Ellie, Restitution and The Secret Keeper nailed both the science fiction aspects of their stories and the emotional ones. It may be that Flashback is the most emotional of them all, mostly because of the searing performance of the lead actor, Walter Koenig, who proves here that he deserved a much bigger role to play in Star Trek. It revolves around our personal connection to new technology, another common theme running through the festival selections, especially All I Think of is You, Restitution and Iris. The new technology here, the Flashback Device that Koenig's character, Dr Joseph Griffin, creates, is reminiscent of the slow glass of Bob Shaw's superb short story, Light of Other Days, but with control given to the user. Griffin dedicates his life to perfecting this device, only for irony to strike in the cruellest fashion.

As befits a story about a gadget that allows people to relive moments of their lives, we're whisked back into the lives of the Griffins, Joseph and his wife, Greta. We watch them as a young couple, decorating their house with all the possibility that the future can hold, but Joseph is already distracted by his work. His boss suggests that he has the potential to change the world and he believes him. We soon find that he manages it too because, back in the present, he's living on Mars with his perfected device selling in the billions. The catch comes in how he got there. Even as a young man he tells Greta that he loves his work more than anything and we see her understanding of that, in her eyes as the truth of it registers and also in the moment he flashes back to with his own device, of her leaving him as an old woman. It hasn't been a good life for her, living it alone while he works, so she leaves just as he finds the time to spend with her and regret that he can't do it any more because she's gone.
Koenig is magnificent here, his eyes full of sadness and regret, as he interrupts a TV interview to flash back to Greta leaving him again. 'Is there anything I can do to get you to stay?' he asks, knowing full well that there isn't because she only exists in the memory that his device provides him with. At least it's clever enough for him to converse with it, but that's little solace for him. The ironies are palpable. The time he spent developing the device stole the opportunity for him to spend valuable time with his wife, only for her to leave and force him to use his own gadget to relive what might be the only moment of time he captured before she left, which in turn nails home again and again what he could have had but lost through dedication to the device. It's an ever decreasing circle, which we can see in Koenig's eyes and hear in his broken voice. Here is a man who has achieved wonders, lives among wonders and has given wonder to billions, but he's a broken man because of it all.

The biggest problem Flashback has is that it's only six minutes long. Apparently there is an intention to expand it to feature length, which I'd dearly love to see, but there's precious little information available online about this goal. It deserves more time to breathe, to draw the characters out, even if that's only by expanding to, say, twenty minutes. Koenig gets the most screen time but there's surely a lot more to Dr Griffin than we see within that. Judy Levitt is excellent as the elder Greta, but again there's so much more possibility to the character than just a repeated exit in Griffin's repeated flashback. Their younger versions have possibility too, Tom Biagini and Shannon Murray believably ready for the world. Murray in particular gets that one moment but not the opportunity to make more of it. I have no doubt that, given the ironies that Steve Peterson shoehorned into the six minutes he had, he could layer it more with the flexibility of time. Here's to hoping we see more of Flashback.

At least we can continue to flash back to Flashback again and again through YouTube, where the film is available to watch for free.

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