A remake of Joel Schumacher’s 1990 cult film, Niels Arden Oplev’s Flatliners is about five medical students who venture to explore the mysteries of life after death, stopping their hearts for several minutes to experience what lies beyond. But while they revel in their newfound discoveries, they are soon haunted by their past sins, experiencing nightmarish visions as they struggle to face their demons.
I never saw the original Flatliners so with this particular film, I guess that I was hoping to be in that unique position of judging the film on its own merits, not being able to compare it to the original, much like I did with Ghost in the Shell earlier this year. But sadly it didn’t work out as well this time; I think that this film set a new record for me because about five/ten minutes in, I was already completely bored.
The film takes a few minutes to introduce the characters (definitely more on that later!), throwing around tons of incomprehensible medical jargon, and while the first flatlining experience provides the most engaging part of the story, it doesn’t take long for the film to completely lose focus and it gradually turns into sub-par horror film with loads of half-baked ideas, all unique aspects completely done away with and ultimately succumbing to mediocrity and immense tedium. For the longest time, during the middle act in particular, I felt like I was comatose – flatlining indeed!
A big problem with Flatliners is the characters; very quickly and blatantly established as a bunch of privileged trust fund kids (not a good place to start!), they’re mostly all irresponsible, unsympathetic, thinly drawn characters who make one terrible decision after another and at the end of the day, it’s actually disappointing when they’re all resuscitated at the end of their flatlining experience! As the lead, Ellen Page does the best with what she’s given but she eventually ends up as just another horror movie victim, she looks bored most of the time (we sympathise, Ellen!) and her character’s motivations for starting the whole flatlining process are too unclear and inconsistent; she’s a horror movie archetype whose reckless, pointless decision ruins the other characters’ lives.
James Norton fares even worse as his character is not likeable at all – he’s the loud, brash, arrogant one who we just want to see bad things happen to but by the very end, he has a few scares, gets stabbed in the hand once and gets off scott free with a happy ending. It’s inconceivable that his character could ever become a potential doctor because his medical knowledge is laughable and his bad attitude, though meant to be charming, just makes us want bad things to happen to him.
Then there’s Nina Dobrev who plays Marlo, a character who has no discernible character traits and just exists to be the horror movie character who is forced to battle her demons and to eventually “forgive herself” (sigh). There’s a particular moment where she asks Diego Luna “What do you see in me?” and honestly I thought “well, you’ve got me there!”; of course, Luna’s answer is “you’re really hot” and that’s pretty much all there is. That’s also an example of the calibre of writing to be found in this film.
But on a related note, Diego Luna is the best of the bunch as he provides most of the charisma (strange, since I called him out over not having enough of it in Rogue One) and his character is the most responsible one, having the common sense not to go through the process himself. But having said that, he constantly goes on about how he’ll have no part of it, seemingly always determined to count himself out, but he always goes back to the group and it’s frustrating that, at least three times in the film, he goes around in circles with the not willing to help but then ending up helping them anyway. “We never should have done this”, he says. No s#?t!
And finally, Kiersey Clemons is also set up to be the sensible one and initially seems quite sweet and innocent but she ends up being just as bad as the rest of them, turning out to have been a real bitch in high school.
So while the actors’ performances are actually of a fine standard, the actual characters are a massive problem as they are poorly written and they just want to use the flatlining experience as a high, their constant irresponsibility and awful decisions failing to illicit any sympathy from the audience. They end up having to inevitably face their demons, as most horror movie characters tend to do, but they also have to go through a fair share of saccharine, “romantic” moments, desperately attempting to get us to feel for them but to no avail; the music score in these scenes tends to get too schmaltzy too.
Oh and Kiefer Sutherland is in this as a not-so-subtle nod to the original. And he’s alright, in all fairness – that Phone Booth voice and tough attitude provide some interesting moments.
As hinted at before, the film loses focus and character motivations go out the window because it’s soon impossible to understand just why the characters go through the flatlining experience at all. First, it’s for the pursuit of medical knowledge, to explore the idea of consciousness after death, but in Ellen Page’s case, the experience apparently gives her superpowers – with the ability to bake bread, play the piano and to answer any medical question put to her. Later on, the flatlining process is just used for no other reason than as a way to get high – the characters die for a bit, come back to life and then drink, party and have sex, the process also giving Sophia the incredible superpower of standing up to her domineering mother.
So it does get to the point where we can no longer understand just why they’re doing all of this in the first place and ultimately, the story is unfocused, baffling and meaningless; it may start off with a unique idea but the film soon forgets about the actual flatlining and ends up as a lazy horror film, complete with jump scares and some “now you see it, now you don’t” moments. With a happy ending. Where all the characters learn absolutely nothing.
And is it medically accurate? I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing not!
A long, slow, pointless and incredibly boring film with an unfocused story full of half-baked ideas and unsympathetic, irresponsible, reckless characters.