Mark Reviews Movies

Flatliners (2017)


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Cast: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland, Madison Brydges, Anna Arden, Miguel Anthony, Jenny Raven

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 9/29/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 29, 2017

Bad remakes of good movies are irksome enough, but there's something especially dispiriting about bad remakes of movies that could use remaking. Take the original version of Flatliners, which had a clever premise about a group of medical students who wanted to discover if there's an afterlife and, if there is, what it's like. It's a good idea, yet the movie, despite its oppressing vision of an urban gothic landscape, turns into a fairly standard horror tale—with visions, which might be repressed memories come to life or phantoms from the other side, terrifying the characters with little logic (It's strange that the original—or, for that matter, this remake—doesn't consider the most obvious possibility: brain damage).

It still is kind of a good idea, especially 27 years after the original movie, as medical technology has advanced. The major difference between the original and this remake is that the students actually use a brain scanner as they allow their classmates to kill them off one at a time—obviously with the expectation of being revived in a few minutes before significant brain damage starts. After the first character flatlines in Flatliners, the students watch the recorded scan and note some synaptic bursts. The brain is definitely working after death, and it's triggering certain parts that control various functions and feelings (Who knew that the section that controls hunger and thirst also controls love?). Then the visions of bad memories or otherworldly visitors begin.

In other words, there's nothing particularly new here, and there's definitely nothing new in terms of what could have improved upon from the original movie. Watching it is to feel the same disappointment that came with the original, only heightened, because we already know exactly where the story is going and can observe as Ben Ripley's screenplay sets off down the same, frustrating path.

The characters are sort of different, although mostly because they don't even reach the level of basic archetypes that the characters of the original movie were. The plan comes from Courtney (Ellen Page), a medical student with an overwhelming sense of guilt after causing the death of her sister nine years prior. She doesn't mention this, of course, because that might actually lead the characters to discuss the concept of an afterlife in direct, personal terms.

Instead, Jamie (James Norton), a spoiled trust-fund kid with a problem of bedding and subsequently dismissing women, thinks it would be neat, so he's completely into the idea of killing his classmate. Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), whose mother (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson) has spent the entirety of the young woman's life scolding her for not doing well enough in school, is not a fan of the idea, until the rest of the characters decide that, yes, this could be interesting—and maybe even a little fun. The others include Ray (Diego Luna), who is also hesitant but turns out to be the best at reviving his dead friends, and Marlo (Nina Dobrev), who covered up a big mistake that led to the death of a patient.

Every interesting concept that could come with this premise—weighing the ethical quandary of a major scientific breakthrough with what could be murder, what the actual implications of a real afterlife would be, trying to determine if they actually have visited another plane of existence—is bypassed. The experience of death is presented in straightforward and rather dully literal terms by director Niels Arden Oplev, with Courtney's mind floating out of her body, before encountering a bridge surrounded by points of glimmering light, and Jamie taking a joyride on a motorcycle with a woman he once rejected. The entire thing looks pretty drab, even without the comparison to the unique look of the original movie.

Everyone—the actors, the filmmakers, even the characters—seems to be going through the motions (There's never even a good sense why these characters would put themselves through this, except that it gives them better memory recall and intuition, and the idea of super-powered minds is, obviously, dismissed quickly, too). The point is to get to the horror-style material, which is never frightening, and that only exists so that the characters can have what amounts to a series of supernatural therapy sessions. Yes, Flatliners is essentially the same movie as its predecessor, only lacking the original's sliver of inspiration and a reason tell this story—again.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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