Five medical students obsessed with death stop their hearts to find out what happens after we die in Niels Arden Oplev’s Flatliners.
Another iteration of Flatliners has been on the cards for a long time. Ideas for sequels and remakes have bounced around for years and now it finally comes to cinemas with a remake that the studio pretends it’s a sequel. I can categorically say that this isn’t a sequel as the events of the original film aren’t referenced and none of the characters make a return appearance. Kiefer Sutherland is in this film but playing a different character so don’t believe the lies; this is a remake.
A remake isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially if it modernises the story in a new and interesting way or finds a different angle that went unexplored originally. This film does neither though technically modernises it by setting it in the present day. The circumstances of the experiment are pretty much the same and the idea that there are consequences to willingly killing yourself for a few minutes is carried over from the original.
If you haven’t seen the original then the idea is that Courtney (Ellen Page) is obsessed with death and wants to prove that there is some way of measuring what happens to the brain at the moment of death. Essentially she wants to prove that there is a scientific basis for the afterlife. Doing that while alive is impossible so she has die in order to explore the possibility. She enlists her friends to stop her heart for a short period of time and revive her so that she can experience death without permanently being dead.
There are complications during the initial experiment itself as her friends have trouble reviving her but afterwards it seems to go pretty well; her brain is somehow reordered so that she can recall vague facts she was exposed to in passing, play the piano perfectly and her whole outlook on life changes as a result. Essentially she becomes what Bradley Cooper became in Limitless.
Her friends attempt what she did and it isn’t long before complications start to appear. Each of the characters are haunted by some past misdeed which threatens to drive them insane to the point that they actually do want to kill themselves.
The setup of the film is actually fairly compelling. I like how the experiment was laid out and could even get on board with the reasons for doing so. Some of the revival scenes were pretty tense and it was all generally fairly interesting. there’s nothing here that wasn’t covered either as well or better in the original but I can’t fault those involved for the first act.
It all goes wrong once the horror element kicks in. It goes from scientific thriller to formulaic horror complete with an endless stream of jump scares. It’s all so predictable, transparent and dull that it undoes much of the good faith built up in the earlier scenes. After a point it stops being about the characters and more about trying to scare the audience. It’s also somewhat contrived that all of those who “flatline” are hiding a dark secret from their past.
Flatliners has a cast that are far too good for this film. Ellen Page is really good as the lead and has some strong material in the earlier scenes but much of that is eroded shortly after her “flatline”. Jamie (James Norton) is an insufferable, womanising douche but James Norton plays that character type well. He has very little to work with as his character is painfully one dimensional. Marlo (Nina Dobrev) is entirely defined by her dark secret and attraction to Ray (Diego Luna) who is defined by his competence and common sense. Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) could have been an interesting character as her paralysing sense of inadequacy complete with a controlling mother was a decent setup for a compelling character arc but it becomes part of the furniture. To their credit the entire cast do the best with what material they have and interact naturally enough.
The main issue here is that it’s difficult to answer the question of why this film was made and who it was made for? Fans of the original would be better place revisiting that as it does what this film tries to do far better. Anyone interested in the concept should check out the original rather than watch this as well. It doesn’t do enough to justify its existence despite some some promising early scenes setting up the story. The cast do well with what little they have but the descent into formulaic horror was a massive mistake.
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