There are reasons to remake, reboot, or re-imagine pre-existing properties. Director Niels Arden Oplev’s FLATLINERS doesn’t give any. Well, maybe for the sole purpose of the studio retaining the rights, but we’ll never know. This rote “re-imagining” of director Joel Schumacher’s classic 90’s thriller is lazy, lifeless and, at times, laugh-out-loud ludicrous. Lacking the same smarts, sass and scientific complexities as the original, there’s nothing signifying why it needed to be brought back to life.
Courtney (Ellen Page) is a whip-smart medical student, but she’s wracked with guilt over the accidental death of her younger sister years prior. With an insatiable need to understand the afterlife and what happens scientifically to our brains after we die, Courtney ropes two fellow students, trust fund bad boy Jamie (James Norton) and high-strung worrywart Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), into a late-night extra-curricular experiment in the basement of the university hospital. That after-school project involves killing themselves for science, but also because they have God-complexes. Two other competitive medical residents get involved as well – Marlo (Nina Dobrev) and Ray (Diego Luna). It all seems well and good, having unlocked hidden knowledge compartments and other strengths inside their minds, until they soon discover (whoops!) they’ve awakened something darker – guilt from their past. And now they must deal with the consequences.
The film’s first mistake is giving more weight to screenwriter Ben Ripley’s rudimentary additions, rather than treating Peter Filardi’s original story with reverence. While this new feature shares the same bone structure (if you’ve seen the original, you’ll be ahead of these characters at all times), and one character says, “today’s a good day to die” (albeit with the incorrect tonal inflection; cheerfully like he won the lotto), the characters and situations are different – some nonsensical. To squeeze what little enjoyment you can out of this, drink every time they use “flat-lining” as a verb. The new characters don’t really match up with their former counterparts. Jamie is like a mix of Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) and Joe (Billy Baldwin). Courtney is the Nelson, until Marlo usurps that role. Ray is “the Randy” (Oliver Platt) of the group, but with the moral compass of David (Kevin Bacon). Sophia’s guilt is like a wet mimeograph of David’s, but she retains Rachel’s (Julia Roberts) nervousness, which is dialed up to “11,” making you think maybe being a doctor isn’t for her. They all sorta overlap and nothing’s defined. That’s fine, but the bad thing is it’s a mask – a tool to distract from the bland new narrative and CG effects orgy.
The filmmakers can’t even think of a clever way to integrate Kiefer Sutherland. His cameo, along with his talent that made his original role multi-dimensional, is instantly squandered. Instead of letting him play Nelson, who, with some ingenuity applied to the material, could’ve further demonstrated the consequences of hubris, he’s stuck playing a superfluous role as teacher Dr. Barry Wolfson. There’s no backstory. Everything you’ve heard leading up to this about Sutherland potentially reprising his role is a lie. Again, it’s yet another poor choice. Why not make better use of him?!
The filmmakers’ lethargy is contagious. One character is forgiven for their life-altering trespasses like they are a delivery person who forgot to add extra dipping sauces. I expected a shock to follow the tame apology acceptance – like the victim jumping to their death afterward, but no. The most egregious moment (and the one where I laughed the loudest) is when, to put a bow on things, a character inserts themselves into a relationship when the betrayed party wants nothing to do with them. Plus this version doesn’t work when it tries to be funny (like when Sophia takes Jamie back to her mom’s apartment for loud sex). The unintentional laughter happens when it’s being dead serious.
While it does away with the original’s sexism within the group, there’s still a lingering residual sheen of it elsewhere – mostly dealing with Jamie’s haunting vision of his ex-flame (Anna Arden). She’s an “angry spurned ex” trope, who, it’s later insinuated, needs rescuing. For as much as how the original wanted to be “woke” to Joe’s misogynist treatment of women, their initial attempts to do this with Jamie fail simply because they forget to follow through with that thread.
Worst of all, this wades into generic horror territory replete with lousy jump scares. None of it is scary, nor indelible. Eric Kress’ cinematography primarily utilizes the stereotypical desaturated color palette, favoring a cold cast over greys and blues. There’s a sallow nature to it versus the saturated vibrancy of Jan de Bont’s visions. Niels Sejer’s production design doesn’t hold a candle to Eugenio Zanetti’s. Locations don’t pop, nor do they ever augment atmosphere and narrative-drive. In fact, every big set piece, flashback, and hallucination is unimaginative – and subsequently infuriating.
Remember how heartbreaking it was to see Rachel’s dad commit suicide when she caught him shooting heroin? It was scary and sad. Remember the release David felt when Winnie forgave him? There’s nothing like that here. Remember Joe’s come-uppance? It felt gratifying. Here there’s no tension, no fear, no heartbreak, no gratification. There’s nothing cinematic about any aspect. Everything’s forgettable and, well, flat.
As both of these films state, “Some lines aren’t meant to be crossed.” This included the line the studio exec crossed when greenlighting this drivel.
FLATLINERS is now playing.