If we can learn anything from the movie Flatliners, it’s that we should never tamper with the natural order. Life and death are out of our hands, and trying to bring back what is gone only leads to suffering and grief.
There are two ways to take in this message. Firstly, you could actually watch Flatliners. That, however, would mean sitting through a tedious, rather predictable film which squanders a fascinating premise – we therefore do not recommend it.
The second way is to ask people who have watched this movie – the poor souls – what they thought of it; most of them will probably agree that this remake to a half-forgotten 1990 movie really didn’t have to be made at all. Let old franchises die in peace, please!
Flatliners tells the tale of five ridiculously good looking young doctors doing their best to cope with the stresses of medical life. One of them, Courtney (Ellen Page), was involved in a tragic accident which took the life of her younger sister almost a decade ago.
As a result, Courtney is obsessed with the afterlife. She persuades the rest of the group to put her through a near death experience involving defibrillators and other complicated medical equipment, so she can see things on the other side. When she discovers this process (“flatlining”) gives her unexpected talents, her friends want to try it too.
And as you can expect, things go horribly wrong. For it is then that Flatliners turns from a decent sci-fi thriller into a sub-par horror film.
The movie somehow stops being about flatlining, apparently deciding that questions about the afterlife and the value of existence are deathly dull. Instead, it becomes a poorer version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, with characters haunted by the manifestations of terrible things in their past.
Why don’t well-adjusted, happy people with no baggage embark on these kind of experiments? It seems you really have to be mad to be a mad scientist.
As it turns out, inducing near death experiences causes its victims to suffer from an acute abundance of horror movie cliches, as Courtney and her friends soon experience strange sounds, lights turned off at conveniently suspenseful moments, and strange women leering at them from afar. It’s all rather predictable and dull, and doesn’t always make sense.
It’s a bit of a pity, as Flatliners definitely had potential. The cast does a decent job and the characters are memorable, even if they slightly feel like stock characters. There’s Marlo (Nina Dobrev) the high achiever; responsible voice of reason Ray (Diego Luna); party boy Jamie (James Norton); and sheltered good girl Sophia (Kiersey Clemons).
Each of them is given an over-long convoluted backstory of their own, and the only interesting problem (Courtney’s!) is ultimately wrapped up in a very unsatisfying manner.
The film also feels overly long, and has quite a few jarring “party” scenes, which feel as if they are only there only to extend the film’s runtime.
The movie is directed by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, probably most well known for directing the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and the pilot of Mr. Robot.
Fans may be interested to know that Kiefer Sutherland, who appeared in the original Flatliners movie, appears here. Confusingly, however, he plays a character with a different name, and his role is so minor he might as well not have appeared.
The film does have a few bright spots: Page especially delivers a good performance, and some of the comic moments are quite nice. The flatlining scenes are rather exciting (even if they do feel a little the same after a while) and the depictions of what happen to characters during them are well-done and rather memorable.
Flatliners might have been more enjoyable if it stuck to being a medical drama, about a group of emerging practitioners forced to work under the supervision of a cranky senior officer (Oh wait, that’s the show House!).
Unfortunately, it unwisely went down the path of horror, with the most horrific thing about it being how it wasted a capable cast and a fascinating story.
Do not resuscitate, at all costs. Go find the original movie if you want a better take on this premise!
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton