The original Flatliners from 1990 always had carried nothing more than an absolutely ridiculous premise, so it’s among many of the reasons the existence of this new film is baffling. Being a sequel to said film, it was already hard enough distinguishing it as such when it barely even feels like such and more along the lines of a lazy remake – and even if it were said to be a remake, it wouldn’t change just how cheap everything feels on its own. But among many more reasons I’m absolutely baffled at the existence of Flatliners is the extent to which it will be gathering any of its appeal because many theater trips I’ve made within the past few months have shown at least one trailer (to quite an annoying degree) – only to find here I’m unsure what Niels Arden Oplev even wanted to make.
Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Diego Luna, and Keirsey Clemons all star as a group of medical students who all take part in a dangerous experiment that requires a temporary stop of the heart as a means of seeing what the afterlife is actually like from the creation of near-death experiences. After the same procedure had been performed twenty-years ago by Nelson Wright, the side effects soon enough begin to haunt this group of students and the course of their lives is changed for better or worse. It’s the same premise that one would remember of the original Flatliners film, but as a sequel it has such a thin connection to said film and on its own grounds it still feels implausible. But considering the original idea seemed to have very little to carry on its own, this repeat only seems to reinforce why this premise isn’t really as thought-provoking as it believes itself to be.
Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of the premise or the extremely derivative nature of the film’s narrative, I can’t help but feel Flatliners has no confidence in making itself look like a distinguishable effort along the rest of its contemporaries. It feels like a work driven by jump scares, among many reasons the giant leaps at thought-provoking content within the premise only feel half-witted. It isn’t even trying to stand out because it’s so noticeably generic on every count whether it be the supposedly terrifying moments where we see the afterlife for once and its side effects, or the general production design – it doesn’t ever seem to carry a consistent tone. At one moment it seems to be a horror film, the next it moment it seems as if everything has calmed down, but the concept of “flatlining” and its side effects don’t seem any different to that of a drug addiction drama, but I’m not sure if Niels Arden Oplev put so much care into allowing Flatliners to feel distinctive.
The film’s lack of a distinctive identity as a horror film or a science fiction film is bad enough, but considering this is supposedly a sequel to the 1990 original film of the same name, Kiefer Sutherland’s reprised role as Nelson Wright – one of the first “flatliners” – seems especially pointless considering he only comes in as a background character. Not as if having him play a bigger role would have made the film any better, but his presence feels distracting enough when his own ties to the film’s concept easily could have added more to the narrative. But Oplev makes no use of him in this supposed sequel and we’re left with an otherwise poor remake, one that doesn’t seem to know how to connect with its original source nor leave an impact for audiences who are unfamiliar with the 1990 film – so it just tries to lazily recreate the structure with less energy or charisma.
Nothing, however, tops the cheap nature of the film’s climactic sequence. The whole time, we were watching a group of boring characters experimenting with “flatlining” only to find that the side effect haunting them would be their past mistakes. But the problem it poses is that we know they’re coming from a mile away, and there’s virtually no buildup to these events aside from a flashback from nine years ago with Page’s character that opens the film. It seems as if it is focused on hastily getting over with moments that are supposedly more exciting, yet because there’s no point in doing so, they aren’t compelling – it’s just flat out boring. And the solution seems simple enough for the people who have went flatlining, making everything prior seem virtually pointless. One can give credit to Schumacher for at least trying to create stakes for those who crossed the line, but Oplev seems confused by his own message about these people: they’re shallow caricatures who do everything for equally shallow motives, only to find everything bad will be fine from an act so simple.
To repeat a joke that has probably been made many times already, Flatlinersis a film that seems to have flatlined on its own arrival. It never created its own distinctive identity nor seemed to justify a reason for everything to occur the way it is, it just spends time trying to look terrifying when the stakes are so low and interest is at a bare minimum when many of its own attempts at scaring its audience seem to come from a mile away. I’m not even sure why this remake or sequel even exists, but for whatever reason it does despite the lack of appeal its source material would have from the implausible premise. If it were a sequel, it would be the worst sort and if it were a remake, it represents all the worst qualities of such. But I suppose I can give credit to the group of people talking behind me as I was watching Flatliners, because they were far more interesting to listen to than the movie I was seated to watch.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay by Ben Ripley, from the 1990 film written by Peter Filardi
Produced by Laurence Mark, Michael Douglas, Peter Safran
Starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Nina Dobrev
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 110 minutes