You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Died
Flatliners is Hollywood’s latest attempt at ‘resurrecting’ a long-forgotten cult hit, even if the 1990 flick, on which it’s based, was never really considered a revered masterpiece. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the first film teamed then rising star Julia Roberts with lesser-known actors Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin and told a daffy story about a group of medical students who deliberately ‘flatlined’ in order to explore life after death. Instead of improving on the original movie’s intriguing premise, this unnecessary remake simply does the exact same thing, only sprucing it up by adding a bit of CGI to its depictions of the afterlife. Honestly, if you’re not going to do anything new, why revive a long-deceased property?
Ellen Page takes over from Sutherland and stars as Courtney, a sombre medical student who seems to have an interest in the hereafter, this prompted by a tragic incident from her past. After discovering a vacant basement beneath the hospital she’s training at, Courtney decides to conduct an experiment to find out what happens to the brain once a person dies, our protagonist using herself as a test subject — with an MRI scanning her mind in real time — dragging her friends Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) along for some help. Courtney eventually crosses over to the other side and is quickly jolted back to life by Ray (Diego Luna), a sensible student who stumbles into the facility just in time to bring her back, Ray’s ‘hot’ rival Marlo (Nina Dobrev) arriving shortly after.
At first, the out-of-body experience seems to have a positive effect on Courtney, her mind given a jump-start of sorts, with Page suddenly remembering minor details from medical textbooks, along with her grandmother’s recipe for bread and how to play the piano. Envious of Courtney’s newfound hyper-intelligence, her peers all have a go at going under as well, bar the level-headed Ray, of course. As the motley gang of meds keep returning from the great beyond in a state of euphoria, we’re subjected to elongated montages of celebratory partying and PG-13 sex scenes. Soon after, however, repercussions begin to emerge, with each of the students suffering from a series of supernatural visits/ creepy hallucinations reflecting sins they committed in the past — be it a concealed misdiagnosis or some classroom bullying. As the nightmares intensify, our heroes must find a way to make amends for their former wrongdoings, before their painful demons catch up to them.
Directed by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Flatliners suffers due to a lackluster screenplay by Ben Ripley, Source Code (2011), which fails to capitalize on the supernatural concept of exploring what happens after we die — it’s hard to believe that nearly three decades after Schumacher’s psychological thriller hit screens, filmmakers still can’t find a way to utilize this great idea. Rather than doing something new and innovative, we have another ‘science goes awry’ type narrative, complete with a series of cheap thrills by way of hauntings and cheesy jump scares, all of which fail to leave any sort of impression. And just like its ancestor, this one ends up delivering indifferent messages about responsibility, regret, guilt and forgiveness. In better hands, I can’t help but feel that this Flatliners do-over could have been something more. As it stands, it’s a by-the-numbers retread of a mediocre film which, let’s face it, wasn’t really a classic to begin with.
Even the new cast is wasted, seeing as no one on the payroll manages to make any of this nonsense feel convincing. Ellen Page, Inception (2010), does the best she can with her thinly written character, whom we never get to learn much about, whereas Diego Luna, Rogue One (2016), feels completely miscast as the cautious skeptic, Ray. Nina Dobrev, Let’s Be Cops (2014), has nothing to do bar prance around in high heels while on her medical rounds and serve as a love interest for Luna’s Ray. Kiersey Clemons, Dope (2015), probably fares best as Sophia, a conservative student who’s being pressured by her strict mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson) to do well academically, whilst James Norton, Hampstead (2017), plays some generic trust-fund baby who lives in a costly-looking yacht.
And then we have Kiefer Sutherland, The Lost Boys (1987), who embodies hospital dean Dr. Barry Wolfson. Here’s the thing, though, Sutherland’s Wolfson is supposed to be the same character he portrayed in the original Flatliners, having since changed his name to distance himself from the experiments he conducted in the 1990 film — we even see his former name, Nelson Wright, on his lab coat. While Sutherland’s appearance (loosely) connects the two movies, this cameo feels like a major missed opportunity, seeing as the guy could’ve offered our five leads some critical advice about the dangers of flatlining (having done it in the past) or even offered them a helping hand when things go pear-shaped, this revelation possibly taking the series into new territory. What we have instead, however, is a pointless bit part, with Sutherland showing up for a few scenes as a cranky administrator, who doesn’t even reference anything from the previous flick. So, why bother?
Lazy, predictable and dull, this updated Flatliners is the type of blow-by-blow remake that fuels the cynics who believe that all revamps are terrible. Umm, what about David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), Chuck Russell’s The Blob (1988), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) or Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). Trust me, give it about a year or so and I’m sure most will forget that this Flatliners re-do even existed. This is one property that should have stayed dead.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Mr. Movie