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Review: Flatliners (2017)

Flatliners (2017)

Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev

Premise: A remake of the 1990 film. A group of medical students engage in a series of extracurricular experiments in which they stop their heartbeats for a few minutes and explore the afterlife. The experiments dredge up forgotten memories and strange phenomena start to occur.

What Works: The core cast of Flatliners includes Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons. Each of them is given specific character turf to explore. Page’s character initiates the experiments and she hopes to make contact with the sister she lost in a car crash. Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev play competitive students who try to outdo each other, with Dobrev’s character later facing up to a fatal mistake that she made during her residency. James Norton is cast as a wealthy womanizer who is brought to face the consequences of his lechery and Kiersey Clemons plays a stressed out student who suffers under a domineering mother. It is clear who everyone is and what their issues are and in that specific respect the filmmakers improve on the original film. The 2017 version of Flatliners is driven by its characters and everyone is motivated by something specific from their past.

What Doesn’t: The new version of Flatliners benefits from contemporary special effects but it’s very bland. The original movie wasn’t great but it did have style and a cast that exuded charisma. The new version has neither. Like a lot of special effects movies of recent years, the 2017 edition of Flatliners has nothing distinctive about it. The afterlife imagery is generic and the computer generated fantasies look antiseptic and unreal. There’s nothing especially creative in this film. After the medical students start poking around in the afterlife, they experience strange phenomena, first the euphoria of cheating death and later haunting visions. These young people have just had a profound spiritual experience, crossing to the other side and confirming the existence of life after death, and the only way they can express themselves is to get drunk. As things take a turn for the worse and the characters are haunted by spooky visions, the movie dabbles in horror but it doesn’t commit to it. All the scary stuff of Flatiners is ripped off of contemporary haunting movies and it is all cliché and not very frightening. The movie also fails to make any internal sense. It is unclear if the students are actually being terrorized by vengeful ghosts or if they are having delusions that manifest their repressed guilt. The filmmakers don’t seem to know the answer to that either. There is a difference between being coy or ambiguous (the way that many of Christopher Nolan’s films are) and just being random in a desperate effort to surprise the audience. Flatliners falls into the latter category. Instead of a mystery, the movie feels as though it’s jerking the audience around. The storytelling is equally indecisive. Flatliners gives each of its main cast members a distinct subplot but it doesn’t do anything interesting with them nor does the story resolve any of their problems. The end of the movie is supposed to be conciliatory but it comes off hokey and pseudo-inspirational as the characters learn to take responsibility for their choices. It’s very afterschool-special-like and overly simplistic. Almost all of the characters have done something really terrible but they’re very sorry and so we’re expected to give them a pass. The filmmakers miscalculate what that does to the appeal of the characters and movie is scrubbed of any trace of gravitas.

Bottom Line: Flatliners is an unnecessary remake. The new version does not do anything creative with the material and it is bland and cliché. This is the kind of remake that exists solely to exploit a recognizable property.

Episode: #669 (October 15, 2017)