Flatliners (2017)

flatliners-rev Flatliners  (2017)    Columbia/Horror-Thriller    RT: 108 minutes    Rated PG-13 (violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, some drug references)    Director: Niels Arden Oplev    Screenplay: Ben Ripley    Music: Nathan Barr    Cinematography: Eric Kress    Release date: September 29, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Madison Brydges, Anna Arden, Miguel Anthony, Jenny Raven, Jacob Soley, Beau Mirchoff.  

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 PLOT SPOILER ALERT!!! Please skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want a key plot point revealed. It has to with Kiefer Sutherland’s role in the new version of Flatliners. Last year, shortly after being cast, he revealed that he’d be reprising his character from the original 1990 movie making it a sequel rather than a remake. He plays a medical school professor named Dr. Barry Wolfson. I kept waiting for him to reveal that he’s really Nelson Wright and knows exactly what his students are up to in the basement. It never happens. It’s not even hinted at that Barry is Nelson. I don’t know if it was left on the cutting room floor or Sutherland was lying but there’s nothing in the new Flatliners indicating it’s a sequel making it a remake.

 Okay, it’s safe to start reading now. I’m not going to go off on some diatribe about remakes and how they dishonor the original and all that. If you follow my reviews, you know how I feel about remakes. I’ve said my piece on that subject, why repeat myself? That being said, I was NOT impressed by the trailer for the new version of Flatliners. It looked horrible. I cringed every time it came on. After dreading it for months, it comes as a relief that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. As a movie, it’s fair. As a remake, it’s entirely unnecessary. Or is it? I’ll get back to this shortly.

 flatlinersNew Flatliners follows the same basic plot outline of old Flatliners. A group of medical students conduct risky experiments with death to find out what waits in the Afterlife. This time the one leading classmates into the beyond is Courtney Holmes (Page, Juno) who blames herself (rightfully) for her kid sister’s death in a car accident years earlier (she was checking messages on her cell phone). Since then, she’s been obsessed with finding out what happens to somebody after they die. She discovers that something happens in different areas of the brain in the minutes following death. She asks a few of her classmates to kill her and bring her back after a minute. The process by which this is done is virtually identical to the method used by Kiefer and the gang (which includes Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon) in the first movie.

 The new group consists of womanizing rich kid Jamie (Norton, Belle), super-competitive Marlo (Dobrev, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage), responsible Ray (Luna, Rogue One) who thinks what’s going on is wrong and stressed-out Sophia (Clemons, Neighbors 2) who shares an apartment with her domineering mother. What does Courtney find on the other side? Essentially, it’s an out-of-body experience as she floats up through each floor of the hospital and through the city. When she returns, she’s different. She has more energy. She remembers her grandmother’s recipe for bread. She diagnoses a rare disorder from memory. She plays the piano. Somehow her brain has been rewired. Meet the new and improved Courtney. The other residents, with the exception of Ray, decide to die as well. It’s fun at first but then they learn that they brought something back from their trip to the Afterlife.

 It starts with Courtney seeing her dead sister running around and goes from there. Yes, their past misdeeds are back to haunt them until they atone for their sins. New Flatliners recycles some material from the old on- e.g. somebody tracks down a childhood classmate to apologize for some horrible thing he/she did to this person. It also changes things up a bit with tales of abortion and the death of a patient. Even with the different sins (and one major departure), the story goes to the same exact place. It even goes as far as replicating the ending of the first movie.

 Earlier I said that Flatliners is an unnecessary remake. I stand by that statement. In its present form, it really serves no purpose. It doesn’t expand or elaborate on the original. If anything, it’s more shallow and superficial. At least Joel Schumacher touched upon bigger issues like religion and playing God. He just didn’t explore them. This Flatliners doesn’t mention these issues, not even once. There’s some debate over the ethics of fooling with death. However, the residents are more concerned with breaking rules and being kicked out of school. They may as well have been running a term paper-for-cash ring. Had the movie taken the opportunity to do what the first movie did not and explore the deeper issues, it would be something to talk about.

 The cast of Flatliners is fairly solid. They’re definitely charismatic. All five principal actors turn in decent performances especially Page and Luna. Clemons has a few good moments as a smart kid pushed beyond the limit by a strict mom who demands absolute perfection. Sophia’s fear of disappointing Mom is what led her to do the thing that’s haunting her now. As for Sutherland, he shows up for a few scenes before disappearing entirely around the movie’s midpoint. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (the original Girl with a Dragon Tattoo), Flatliners has a few nice visuals but it’s all CGI. I should have guessed that any imagining of the Afterlife would involve a lot of CGI. Some of it looks cool. Most of the time, it’s rather uninspired as is the rest of the movie.

 What I find most frustrating about Flatliners is that I don’t have strong feelings about it either way. I didn’t exactly hate it and I definitely didn’t like it. It held my interest but I wasn’t emotionally invested. The nicest thing I can say about it is that it doesn’t suck. I realize that barely counts as faint praise but the makers should feel lucky that they’re not being lambasted (at least not by me). So many remakes turn out badly, it’s a relief when one of them isn’t a total piece of crap. Still, they shouldn’t have bothered. 

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