If my review of Flatliners were to be limited to the character restrictions of a tweet, it would simply read, “Why?” And to be honest, that’s where I feel like leaving this. But, since one expects more context from a published review, l will elaborate.
Remakes, reboots, reimaginings, recalibrations… these are words that seem to be controlling Hollywood at the moment. Perhaps I am either getting old and becoming too cynical, OR perhaps it’s that the target demographic of movies like Flatliners have lapsed into a collective coma, unable to express or experience originality (Is it patronising of me to say that? Well– it must be me after all).
Flatliners ’17 is the type of parasitical, and thus oh-so detestable, movie that feeds off of a superior body of work. Joel Schumacher’s 1990 film was a purposeful experiment in psychological horror made all the more persuasive by its disturbing gothic production design, angelical score and iconic cast. It was made towards the end of the ‘Brat Pack’ era and boasted a line up of Hollywood’s hottest young actors including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon. It told the story of young medical students who flirt with death by stopping each other’s hearts in order to experience the afterlife. They soon discovered that the sins of their past had returned to haunt them and they must find a way to make amends. It certainly wasn’t a groundbreaking film, however it was an unexpected and inspired horror pic that took cues from the surreal films that were coming out of Europe.
Now, 27 years later, we have a remake, and to say it leaves a lot to be desired is an understatement. Over the last few years of leaked production details and casting rumours it was fair to speculate that this Flatliners might be an actual sequel to the original film, and when Sutherland was confirmed to be returning, all hopes were set on it being a direct continuation; a story about med students picking up where Sutherland’s character left off, perhaps. Sadly, this is not the case. What we have here is a yawn-worthy, frustratingly insipid redo with a few uninteresting character tweaks and a tokenistic extended cameo from Sutherland.
Ellen Page stars as a young medical student who proposes a theory that there’s more to death than science can explain, and she convinces four of her fellow students to participate in a “flatline” experiment. And so– ugh, just see the original.
The cast is a dull ensemble of actors giving bland performances. In fact, there is a total lack of charisma and chemistry on screen, which makes for one hell of a boring 110 minutes. Here, Page has the personality of white chocolate (pleasant to some, unappealing to most) and lacks the ability to express any emotion that isn’t stone-faced. Diego Luna offers another familiar face, assuming Oliver Platt’s conscientious objector role from the original, and gives the new film its only interesting character. The rest of the cast are carbon copy cut-outs from whichever generic ghostly horror movie you can throw a dart at. Sutherland plays the hospital’s head of education, and performs as though he actually was reprising his original character. The latter is a bizarre, unnecessary and very tacky element of this remake, with next to no significance.
Danish director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) approached his remake with the intention of distancing it aesthetically from Schumacher’s original by creating a lighter tone with stronger supernatural elements. And where these two qualities may suggest a new and interesting dynamic, they ultimately cancel each other out. The film’s lighter colour tones fail to re-capture the celestial ambience of the original film, while the stronger supernatural tropes remove all subtlety from the story. And where the hypothesis of an afterlife was previously presented with a horrific beauty, it is now delivered without tact. What we’re left with is eyerollingly contrived, utterly formulaic and something that looks just like every other run-of-the-mill supernatural horror movie from the past decade.
It has been almost 30 years since Flatliners ’90 was released and I still revisit it every so often. My mind immediately recalls great sweeping crane shots, the children’s’ choir casting a haunting shroud over the story, and specific images of bullied kids, exploited women and abusive fathers. It’s not hard to imagine that if the title “Flatliners” is mentioned in another 30 years time, it will still be Schumacher’s film that we remember and not this inane, throwaway rehash.