Director Christopher MacBride must enjoy messing around with people. His previous film, 2012’s The conspiracy, found two documentary filmmakers drawn to the world of conspiracy theories and wondering what was real … or not. His last effort, Go back – formerly titled The education of Fredrick Fitzell – is another head trip.
The film follows Fred (Teen wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien), a 30-year-old man suffering from violent flashbacks that reminded him of his youth. Brutal and frightening, the visions lead him on a journey to uncover the truth surrounding the mysterious disappearance of his high school mate, Cindy. To get answers, Fred tracks down his old drugged buddies. One night, they find themselves in a crazy drugged party, where these strangers are all tense on the substance Mercury. It all gets out of hand from there, as the past, present, and future versions of Fred come into play.
SYFY WIRE followed the progress of the film throughout production, visiting the set as early as 2018, where we chatted with the cast. As the film prepares to finally hit theaters, and following a delay caused by the pandemic, here’s our chat with MacBride from this visit to Toronto. The director sat down with us to discuss the big themes of the project, high-level sci-fi, monsters, and the casting of O’Brien.
The original title of the film contained “Education”. What does Fredrick learn on his trip?
“Education” certainly has multiple meanings. One of them explores the idea of how a human being is educated in the broad sense. How do we learn the basics of life that affect us 30 years later? The experiences you have as a kid, as a kid, how these basic educational building blocks instilled in you. How do they influence you then when you are a grown man? Another part of the story is growing up. There is an aspect of coming of age. Fred is a guy in his late thirties. He’s on his way to adulthood in many ways. He is in his first serious relationship. Will he commit to his girlfriend? Will he give up his dream of becoming an artist and take up a desk job? Will he become a responsible adult? Her mother is also on her deathbed, which is another rite of passage when you are no longer a child. Thus, education is about how to be an adult, but it is also him who learns the forces of his life that control him.
Can you talk about infusing the element of science fiction into this narrative?
Science fiction is my favorite genre. The guy I gravitate towards the most is mind-blowing science fiction à la Philip K. Dick. I love this kind of story, be it novels or movies… high level and thought provoking science fiction. Flashback is definitely influenced by Philip K. Dick. The idea of not understanding your own identity really interests me. Mind-blowing science fiction is a great way to explore these identity themes. A dark scanner is a great example. These are things that might be pretentious or not amount to direct drama. But in science fiction, it gives you the right to explore it that way.
Where is Go backDoes the shapeshifter’s creature come into play?
The creature is a mystery in the film. I wanted an antagonist who is not a conventional antagonist. It is not some horror monster trying to swallow or kill you. It is something that the main characters perceive when they take this drug, which seems almost divine. He seems to be everywhere at once. There is a Lovecraftian vibe. He often has creatures called “you can’t imagine what they look like, and you would go crazy if you did.” It’s my attempt to build something like this, which looks, moves, and acts like no other monster in any other movie. We’re still in the process of setting it up, so we’ll see how it ultimately comes out.
Are the effects practical or computer generated?
A combination of both. The audience saw all kinds of CG monsters. No matter how good the tech, there’s always that weird valley where you always know it’s not really there. I like things that have a Cronenberg, sticky, tactile nature. I want the creature to feel like it’s made up of something you don’t understand, and is moving in a way you don’t understand.
How did the choice of Dylan O’Brien go as the lead role and what did he bring?
When we started casting, we wanted a good actor. But we also had certain criteria. We needed someone who could realistically be 17 and 30, which is difficult. One of our producers, Russell Ackerman, talked about Dylan O’Brien and asked me what I thought about him. I said “yes” and I went to see American assassin. I could see how he formed a real character in the movie. I could see he had limits and limits. I could see he was a real actor. We met and he got the script. He not only got the part, but he got the whole story, so I was really impressed.
Go back premieres in select theaters and on VOD on June 4th.