Go to the back of the line TIM MARTAIN

Mercury (Hobart) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

FLAT­LIN­ERS is one of those re­makes that just didn’t need to be made. Let’s not eu­lo­gise too much, though — the 1990 orig­i­nal was no mas­ter­piece of cinema ei­ther. Di­rected by Joel Schu­macher (who gave us clas­sics such as The Client and Phone Booth, as well as the two worst Bat­man movies ever made), the orig­i­nal Flat­lin­ers was a true prod­uct of its pe­riod: star-pow­ered, schlocky, a big bud­get and big idea with very main­stream sen­si­bil­i­ties.

In many ways, the 2017 re­make of Flat­lin­ers is a very sim­i­lar flick, re­ly­ing heav­ily on the pull of its un­de­ni­ably gor­geous cast (in­clud­ing Ellen Page, Nina Do­brev and Diego Luna) and clever premise (the screen­writer of the 1990 ver­sion, Peter Fi­lardi, gets a credit here for the story), but wast­ing it all to a large ex­tent by play­ing to the cheap seats.

Court­ney (Page) is a pas­sion­ate young med­i­cal stu­dent with a very un­usual ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar re­search project: she is study­ing the after­life and, more specif­i­cally, the out-of­body ex­pe­ri­ences re­ported by some pa­tients whose hearts stop on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble.

In or­der to see first-hand what lies be­yond, she has con­cocted a dan­ger­ous med­i­cal ex­per­i­ment that must be con­ducted in se­cret.

She will have her heart stopped for a full minute, her brain be­ing scanned for elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity the whole time, be­fore be­ing re­vived.

Since it is not a job she can do on her own, she needs the help of her col­leagues, so she is joined by friends Marlo (Do­brev), Jamie (James Nor­ton) and Sophia (Kiersey Cle­mons), along with the re­luc­tant Ray (Luna).

After Court­ney wakes with tales of strange vi­sions of an after­life, and ex­pe­ri­ences the in­tox­i­cat­ing af­ter­ef­fects, the oth­ers vol­un­teer to un­dergo the process them­selves, one by one.

But they soon find that there is a price to pay when they ex­pe­ri­ence ter­ri­fy­ing vi­sions of their dark pasts.

The con­cept of Flat­lin­ers is an in­ter­est­ing one, to be sure. And save for a lit­tle bit of patchy med­i­cal science here and there, it is told with just enough be­liev­abil­ity to let you en­joy it without get­ting hung up on the im­pos­si­bil­i­ties.

And there are some suit­ably trippy after­life se­quences as well, which are vis­ually very well done.

There are a few nice call-backs to the orig­i­nal movie, in­clud­ing a cameo by Kiefer Suther­land, who played lead pro­tag­o­nist Nel­son in 1990.

But the story is just so painfully cliched and pedes­trian that it was hard to feel very in­vested in it.

Where the orig­i­nal was a sci-fi/ thriller with su­per­nat­u­ral un­der­tones, the re­make has gone for straight hor­ror, com­plete with a swag of un­nec­es­sary, cheap, poorly ex­e­cuted jump scares that you can see com­ing from about five min­utes away.

Hor­ror needs to be scary, that’s pretty essen­tial.

There are a few gen­uinely creepy mo­ments, some good slow-burn stuff, but nowhere near enough of it to make up for the rest of the clumsy schlock.

And in lieu of build­ing ac­tual ten­sion in the story, the di­a­logue is in­stead pep­pered with char­ac­ters re­peat­edly shout­ing things at each other like “RE­LAX!” or “CALM DOWN!”, lines that sound even sil­lier when de­liv­ered at times when the other per­son sim­ply isn’t that stressed out.

They are dis­pos­able lit­tle nuggets of di­a­logue that ex­ist only to tell the au­di­ence “THIS IS RE­ALLY IN­TENSE RIGHT NOW!” even though it re­ally isn’t.

The char­ac­ters aren’t de­vel­oped much be­yond the barest of cliches, ei­ther. Court­ney is the strange one, Jamie is the douchebag, Marlo is the up­per-class high achiever, Sophia is the work­ing-class kid try­ing to match it with the rich kids, and Ray is the “sen­si­ble one”.

Apart from a few tiny snatches of flashback, which are suf­fi­cient to ex­plain the hal­lu­ci­na­tions and lit­tle else, we get vir­tu­ally noth­ing in the way of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, so I didn’t feel I had any­thing in­vested in the fates of any of th­ese peo­ple.

Ev­ery­thing gets un­der way very quickly with al­most no pre­am­ble, which is good from a pac­ing per­spec­tive, but also means that once Court­ney tells every­one what she’s up to, they all jump on board far too eas­ily.

Even those who are roped in re­luc­tantly very quickly be­come notre­luc­tant with noth­ing much to ex­plain the sud­den change of heart.

The sole piece of char­ac­ter study for each one seems to be “highly com­pet­i­tive med­i­cal stu­dent”, which is ap­par­ently taken to be enough to ex­plain all their ac­tions and mo­ti­va­tions.

If re­mak­ing this movie nearly 30 years after the orig­i­nal was go­ing to add any­thing new to the story, it might have made it worth­while — maybe cur­rent med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, which was un­known in the 1990s, could add a new layer or di­men­sion to the phe­nom­e­non they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

But there is noth­ing new here at all, so why was this even made?

It isn’t ter­ri­ble, but still seems like a pre­dictable cliche of a flick that would be right at home as the Sun­day night movie on a commercial TV net­work.

Just watch the orig­i­nal.

Flat­lin­ers is now show­ing at Vil­lage Cin­e­mas and Cmax, rated M. Rat­ing:

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