I never thought that I would think the 1990 disaster sci-fi/ horror movie Flatliners could be a good movie until I saw its 2017 remake. It seems that there was a hope that with the capability of current technology and special effects, that Flatliners would be the captivating and haunting movie that it wants to be.
Unfortunately, as with the original, an interesting concept is tainted with predictable horror tropes and the reliance on special effects – bringing the movie down even more.
Summoning the Demons
After Courtney (Ellen Page) loses her younger sister in a tragic car accident, she becomes obsessed with the idea of the afterlife. As a medical student, she believes that there is a way to perform an experiment that solves the mystery of what happens in the minutes after death.
In a competitive medical program, Courtney is able to lure her classmates, Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) into stopping her heart to monitor her brain activity with the possibility of a great scientific discovery.
In the middle of the experiment, the weight of what is happening causes them to panic and they call their other classmates, Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev) to help bring Courtney back. She is successfully brought back to life and awakens with extreme clarity, seeming to unlocked all the information in her brain.
Intrigued by her new incredible intelligence and the elusive buzz of dying and coming back to life, her classmates decide to flatline. Only Ray sees the danger in flatlining but still keeps himself involved due to his attraction to Marlo.
Though Courtney purposed the experiment as a chance to put themselves ahead as medical students, it is revealed that she was seeking closure from the guilt of killing her sister in the car crash. She keeps the hauntings to herself, but soon the rest begin to face their demons.
The Failure of the Star System and “Sex Sells”
It is undeniably obvious that the casting of Flatliners was purely to get an audience. Clemons and Luna are up and coming; Dobrev is well known for The Vampire Diaries and other young adult projects; Page has established herself as a talented actress; Norton is an English actor trying to get swept into American fame.
However, with a movie that has a fundamentally weak screenplay, it offers no potential for these actors to advance and actually holds them back. They’re cornered into overdramatic acting in an attempt to bring any meaning to their overused and predictable lines.
Only Luna was able to rise above the rest of the cast and give a pretty solid performance despite the parameters that he was given. But he was still prevented from being a worthwhile character because of his relationship with Debrov’s character.
While it is understandable that Flatliners would follow the original in having a romantic storyline included, it was given more attention than it needed. It was clearly a tactic to keep Ray involved in the story and also an opportunity to bring sex into the movie.
Though Marlo and Ray’s relationship is to mirror Mannus (Julia Roberts) and Labraccio (Kevin Bacon) in the original, it was too focused on in an attempt to add complexity to the narrative. Though Ray’s attraction to Marlo seems genuine and their chemistry was electric enough to be believable, it wasn’t enough to save the narrative. Their entire storyline felt like a plead to keep audiences interested but ended up only adding more time to the already unnecessarily long movie.
In the recasting of Flatliners, it’s exciting that they chose to have three women in the group versus the original only having one, but with a male director, it seems inevitable that these women would be reduced to their bodies.
Bad writing aside, Courtney, Marlo, and Sophia had the opportunity to be strong women, but that is taken away from them with the gratuitous sexualization of the narrative. Both Courtney and Sophia end up having intimate moments with Jamie who plays a trust fun boy that sleeps around. It completely takes away any chance to see the recast as a way to increase representation of compelling female characters.
Camp City and Not in a Good Way
There are two ways to incorporate hackneyed horror tropes: in spoof movies or in tandem with a really well thought out concept and vision. Again, the idea behind Flatliners is genuinely interesting, but the vision supporting it was poorly conceived.
Rather than finding a way to manifest guilt in a way that actually affects the audience and passing along the feeling of haunting, the reliance on seen before surprise tactics have no possibility of instilling fear in its audience.
There’s the bathroom hallucination scene, imagining a body coming back to life, getting trapped in an elevator, the fake phone call from the dead. While in a way it is fun to point out the tropes, it gets boring quickly in an almost two-hour long movie.
Flatliners is a terrible remake of an already bad movie. The silver lining is that Keifer Sutherland (who makes a cameo in the remake as their professor) can feel better about being the star of the original.
A part of me was hoping that he would get them together and say “I know what you’ve been doing, I did it too twenty-seven years ago.” But he didn’t, and that was just another disappointment.
Have you seen Flatliners? Which was better: the original or the remake? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Flatliners opened in theaters in both he UK and the US September 29, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.