Flatliners (2017)

10/01/2017  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

Think back to the Fantastic Four sequel from a decade ago. You know the one, where Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine captures the Silver Surfer and then Doctor Doom steals his surfboard and swaps around the Fantastic Four’s powers for no reason. It was very silly. Anyway, remember how the whole movie builds up Galactus as this massive, world-ending threat, and when he finally shows up he’s just a giant cloud of purple CGI farts?

Niels Arden Oplev’s remake of Flatliners does exactly the same thing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are a hundred other things that kill Flatliners dead in its tracks long before it gets to the CGI cloud monster. Chief among these is that it’s just plain boring. The story of med students killing themselves and exploring the afterlife is rich with potential that the right hands could mold into something fascinating. Instead, Flatliners waffles between a morality play about past wrongdoings and a horror tale about the literal specter of death. It can’t decide which of these to pursue, and as so many of these things often go, it winds up becoming neither.

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What could go wrong? Aside from the massive physical and psychological trauma of intentionally killing yourself, I mean.

Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) ropes three of her fellow medical students — rich kid Jamie (James Norton), overworked Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), and hot one Marlo (Nina Dobrev) — into a secret experiment. She plans to stop her heart and record her brain activity for one minute following death, at which point they’ll revive her and study the results. For Courtney, though, the experiment is less about medical research and more about exploring the afterlife in hopes of atoning for the death of her sister. After Courtney returns with some exciting side effects, the rest want to try it too. This despite warnings from Ray (Diego Luna), who only goes along with it because he’s the only one of these med students who knows the secret to resuscitating dead people.

At first, the side effects are thrilling. Courtney suddenly remembers her grandmother’s secret recipe for bread, Sophia promptly lets go of all her built-up stress, Jamie becomes an even bigger asshole than before, etc. This all sounds more like what happens to people after they get struck by lightning, but for about ten minutes or so, Flatliners becomes this weird story about the virtues of briefly killing yourself.

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The afterlife is like starring in your own JJ Abrams movie.

But then comes the horror. Well… Kind of. Everyone becomes haunted by their past indiscretions, and soon we’re trapped in that morality play I mentioned earlier. Turns out killing yourself unlocks your secret repressed shame and lets it out to play all over your brain. That’s the hook that both versions of Flatliners delve into, but this film can’t find any way of giving that idea any dramatic weight. Nor can it present this idea in a manner that doesn’t require lots of hamfisted flashbacks. It’s a failure of the screenplay more than anything else, as Oplev’s direction is uniformly competent, though he tends to over-rely on CGI flash in depicting his afterlife. Apparently, when you die, you go to the place where migraines are born.

Courtney becomes haunted by her past in some pretty literal ways, particularly a weird unseen ghost that drags you around and tries to kill you. At one point this ghost throws Jamie over the side of his houseboat and then stabs him in the hand with a hunting knife the moment he climbs out of the water. Soon Jamie suggests flatlining brings with it a demonic force that tries to kill you for crossing over. Then he randomly guesses the only way to stop it is to make peace with your past sins. All of this culminates in a scene in which Marlo goes under to apologize to a dead person, only to have the physical manifestation of shame try to eat her soul.

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“Hoooowwww!?? How is this happenniiiiinnngggg?!?!”

Is there an actual demon hunting them down? I honestly have no idea. For all their talk about it, and the fact that the whole film culminates in a scene where Nina Dobrev is consumed by a giant fart, it’s neither confirmed nor denied. Flatliners barely skirts the edge of anything related to theology, possibly fearing that it might overplay its hand. Instead, it grossly underplays things which, much like Rise of the Silver Surfer, feels like an enormous cop out. To end on a more pertinent comparison, this Flatliners remake more resembles an even-further-watered-down remake of The Lazarus Effect, which at least had the good sense to end in something resembling Hell. On second thought, don’t bother seeing any of the movies I just named.

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Solid Direction
A Screenplay That Overexplains All The Wrong Things
A Complete Waste of a Perfectly Good Premise
CGI Horror Galactus: Devourer of Souls
Kiefer Sutherland Appears in a Brief Cameo in which He Does His Best Impersonation of His Father

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About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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