Critic’s Corner: “Flatliners” Needs Some Life Support



If your favorite medical drama asked one director from every genre of film to collaborate on one egregiously long episode together, they would have birthed something eerily similar to the latest film release “Flatliners”.


The film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is a loosely adapted remake of the 1990 thriller of the same name. Like the original, which featured performances from Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon, this remake features a promising cast. Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, Kiersey Clemons and James Norton star as five objectively attractive medical students who stop their hearts in an attempt to explore the afterlife, bringing dark forces with them when they return to the operating table.

In a poor attempt at garnering intrigue, the film opens on a shot of the character Courtney, played by Ellen Page, swerving off of the road into a river, killing a young girl in the passenger seat. Flash forward nine years later, the film reintroduces Courtney and her colleagues in a harshly lit hospital where they are completing their residency. Immediately, sexual tension develops between protagonists Marlo and Ray, played by Nina Dobrev and Diego Luna, emulating the overused television trope of sexy doctors falling in love. Despite the indecipherable slew of medical jargon they rattle off, it is clear that the purpose of this film is not to showcase the intelligence and medical competence of its main characters.

Though I cannot fault any of the actors involved on their acting ability, I question the intent of the writer who thought that Kiersey Clemons’ character Sophia would best be introduced crying over vocabulary in a dimly lit library. Stranger still is the wildly one dimensional and overtly problematic character Jamie, portrayed by James Norton as a stereotypical lothario and probable Gap customer. Each character is less memorable than the last, despite the notoriety of the actors playing them. I was hopeful that this could be blamed on the genre, because most thrillers and sci-fi films rely on plot to drive the film, but in this case, plot was just as lacking as personality.

After a series of unmemorable encounters with each of the core cast, Courtney lures them into the basement of the hospital, which seems to be equipped with every possible contraption needed to bring someone back from the dead. Once again, the film abuses its budget for fluorescent lighting as Courtney takes what could easily be mistaken as a bad acid trip into the afterlife. The special effects are surely a step up from those of the original, though with 27 years between them that’s the least you could hope for. However, other than a name and a cameo from Kiefer Sutherland, the two movies scarcely have enough in common to be compared.

One notable plot point added to this remake was the choice to make all the flatliners superhuman upon their return from the dead. For example, Courtney becomes a superhuman capable of playing the piano, recalling information from books she read three years ago, and most importantly acting like someone who recently got into yoga and now thinks they are “enlightened.” One by one, her friends decide to follow in her footsteps, resulting in several dream sequences from the dead and more than one gratuitous demonstration of arguably unimpressive new abilities.

Not long after they flatline, the characters begin to suffer the consequences of playing God. It is revealed that each of the characters, in addition to being fairly boring, has committed some obscure “sin” that’s come back to haunt them. Though the film was marketed as a horror movie, the only thing scary about the ghosts that darkened our protagonists’ doors was the excuse it gave each character to play victim. Particularly in the case of Jamie, who skipped out on his high school girlfriend on the day of her abortion, made the film downright offensive to watch. Worse still was the artificially sweetened ending, characterized by a round of celebratory shots. Much like its main characters, the film felt underthought and immature, with credits that began rolling long after my patience ran out. Existing in an awkward purgatory between genres, “Flatliners” is one remake that would’ve been better off dead.

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