Release Date: September 29, 2017
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 min
Flatliners is a film that so invested itself in the statement “we don’t know what happens after we die” as a truism that it believes it can represent the death experience as anything its uninspiring horror film script wants it to be.
Boasting no internal consistencies between how its characters experience “flatlining” (medically killing oneself to be resuscitated before the brain shuts down) and the resulting spooky phenomena they experience from coming so close to crossing over I guess, Oplev’s Flatliners remake becomes a confused romp of horror tropes and jump scares that seems divorced from its originally promoted concept. If we were to go off of the film’s mundane ruminations over the experience of knocking at death’s door, the afterlife is an eternal purgatory of being forced to relive the most middling of direct-to-DVD horror films scene by scene.
On all accounts Flatliners had opportunities to steer clear of the narrative ruts it finds itself in, as evidenced by the opening stage setting. Ellen Page’s Courtney Holmes amasses a team of medical students on the sly to medically induce death to her, record her brain activity and (hopefully) bring her back to life as to finally answer the questions of the afterlife it would have you believe.
Sadly the film quickly abandons this premise, and all of its possibly engaging implications instead becomes one part Limitless (2011) and one part any ghost film made in the past decade. Yes, for you see, experiencing death has an infinite amount of side effects according to this screenplay, including increased intelligence, a more vivid memory, higher adrenaline levels, frightening hallucinations and even full on being pursued by the sins of your past in the most inane logic jump.
All the goodwill built into the original concept and the promise of skilled doctors confronting their own mortality purely out of morbid curiosity evaporates, and the film becomes a tedious and confusing horror exercise. Courtney, who transparently only wanted to conduct the experiment to see her deceased sister once more, achieves her goal and is tormented by her ghost, who does creepy things, such as manipulating electronics, jumping around corners and physically altering her apartment, for no discernible reason other than it seems scary to an audience.
Another of the Flatliners, Marlo (Nina Dobrev), also becomes “haunted” by a wrongful death she caused in the past, with much of the same hazy cinematography and cheap rapid editing of Courtney’s sequences. If this was the premise that was stuck to and internalized by the film, it would have made for a humdrum but passable horror film on its own.
Yet Flatliners carries no consistencies when it envisions near-death, as the other two in the group (Kiersey Clemons and James Norton) are not tormented by the dead but instead by people they merely wronged in the past. No doubt wanting to seem philosophical and fully ready to sacrifice whatever rules it set up for itself, Flatliners wants anything to be possible when you are snapped back from the grim reaper’s clutches, making becoming invested in the concept near impossible.
With no schemata to navigate itself across the alter plane, the movie frustratingly feels like it is making things up as it goes along, where its characters can be haunted by the dead or the living, can experience both hallucinations and physical manifestations, and such effects can take on any form they damn well please. This also means that the film literalizes a joke from another, more successful remake, Ghostbusters (2016), in that its characters are haunted by Ghosts from our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively, but I digress.
The one bright spot in a dreary, run-of-the-mill ghost story is Diego Luna, who has more charm than his character or this script allowed him to showcase. Flatliners didn’t fail because it didn’t live up to original, a rather mediocre film that no one professed affinity for until a remake hit the theaters. Flatliners fails because it doesn’t live up to its promise and so desperately wants to be a conventional horror that it turns its back on its premise and happily jumps into a nearly two-hour rut of familiarity with so much wasted potential pushed off to the side.