Go to the back of the line TIM MARTAIN
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: