Back in 2014, actress Maika Monroe emerged as the ‘next big thing’ after brilliant performances in back-to-back indie hits It Follows and The Guest. Strangely, aside from the odd supporting role here and there, she has all but vanished into cinematic anonymity. We witness art imitating life to some degree in the latest feature from writer and director Christopher MacBride. Previously titled The Education of Fredrick Fitzell, the plot sees Fred (Dylan O’Brien) revisits his youth to explore the disappearance of Cindy (Monroe), whom he remembers as the coolest girl at school. With the help of old pals Sebastian (Emory Cohen) and Andre (Keir Gilchrist), he must unravel the mystery of his past.
There’s a real art to writing a film that’s intentionally confusing and yet intriguing and entertaining at the same time. Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller Memento is the perfect example of this being done well, as the protagonist pieces the puzzle together along with the viewer. MacBride makes some strides to achieving this with his premise, and the choppy editing techniques smartly enhance the frenetic nature of the narrative. However, as Fred delves deeper into the mystery, the film becomes increasingly jarring, using gaudy neon imagery to distract from its lack of ideas, and it refuses to join together any of the dots.
Dylan O’Brien undoubtedly has star quality given his previous work but feels miscast in this role. Switching between troubled teen and a stressed-out office worker, he takes on multiple incarnations of himself as the plot jumps around but none of them ring true. His character gets lost in the weird disarray, and it makes it hard to care if he succeeds or not. Emory Cohen and Keir Gilchrist are introduced as support, but the characters are so thinly sketched that they bring no depth to the story. The aforementioned Maika Monroe actually steals the show in the brief scenes that she has, giving some rare verve to an otherwise lacklustre effort from MacBride. This only serves to amplify the disappointment that her on-screen turns have been so few and far between.