Did the world need a remake of Joel Schumacher’s ‘Flatliners’? Obviously not. At the same time, the film’s central concept was intriguing even if the execution was mediocre. There was room for someone to take what worked in ‘Flatliners’ and create an intriguing sci-fi/horror fantasy that actually lived up to the ideas. Unfortunately, this isn’t that remake. Somehow it’s worse.
Our protagonist is Courtney (Ellen Page), a promising medical student haunted by the memory of a car crash that took the life of her sister. She’s obsessed with studying the afterlife, dedicating her evenings to that morbid pursuit. After discovering ways to experience death for short periods of time, she gets a few fellow students (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons and James Norton) to help with an experiment. They’ll all essentially kill each other for a minute and then bring each other back to life. The experiment opens up parts of their brains that they never dreamed possible. It seems like a magical and successful experiment, right? Wrong! They also accidentally bring back something from the other side that persists in haunting them. Oooooo! Spooky…
This ‘Flatliners’ update brings a slight variation by tossing in a bit of ‘Limitless’ to suggest that the flatlining college kids get super smart and stuff from almost dying. It’s doesn’t add much beyond a few extra scenes. To be honest, this movie that hovers between sequel and remake (There’s a Kiefer Sutherland cameo! Is it all connected?! Who cares?!) doesn’t add much to ‘Flatliners’ at all. As with the first flick, the best stuff comes early as the experiment is established and carried out. The concept has natural tension and creepiness that ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ director Niels Arden Oplev executes with a certain level of slick style. The cast is better than this movie deserves, so it’s fairly well performed and executed. However, the good dumb fun ends quickly. By the time the cast have all flatlined and the spooky shenanigans begin, this movie devolves into a series of obvious and increasingly disappointing jump scares. The actors get less and less to do beyond looking worried or scared, and soon enough the whole thing feels like a big waste of time and effort.
As the movie lumbers desperately into its second and third acts, any sense of clever ideas or twists on genre beats devolves into the most tediously route nonsense imaginable. Characters who are supposed to be hyper intelligent find themselves wandering into ghost traps like idiots, wondering if there’s something supernatural afoot when they know damn well what’s coming. Granted, characters behaving stupidly in the face of danger is kind of a necessary part of any horror yarn. Still, when it’s been established that these characters entered the movie as med school smarty-pants and got heightened intelligence following flirting with death, you’d think they’d maybe put a little more consideration into their actions in the face of ghostly terror than the usual dumbbell co-ed in an ’80s slasher movie. You’d be wrong. The movie lumbers through jump scare clichés and ghost gags for the bulk the running time, stealing ideas from the likes of the ‘Final Destination’ franchise but executing it with perfunctory disinterest.
More than anything else, you get the impression that no one involved in ‘Flatliners’ actually believed this project deserved reinvention or expansion. It’s clearly a paycheck job for all involved. Buying a ticket is signing up to watch a collection of actors and filmmakers go through the motions of making a movie without particularly caring about the results. This was a rare remake that could have improved on the original, but no one bothered to take the time to do that. Instead, it’s a dully photocopy retread destined to vanish into obscurity before the opening weekend is over. After that, this ‘Flatliners’ will exist only to trick viewers into thinking they’ve clicked on a streaming link to the original film, then turn it off in frustration moments later.
Don’t bother with this nonsense. It’s not even worth tolerating as a mistake watch. Just watch the original ‘Flatliners’ instead. That’s still a disappointing movie, but at least it’s dated in fun ways rather than updated in pointless ones.