MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Flatliners’ has a sufficient pulse

On the contingency that you enjoyed the 1990 original, this pseudo-sequel/remake does quite a bit well, at the cost of not being scary

| September 29, 2017

I wholeheartedly believe that the 1990 “Flatliners” is not a horror film. Sure, it has supernatural elements and it’s quite thrilling at times, but nothing really meshes together in the genre department that can really label “Flatliners” as a horror film. The original, with an all-star cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin and Julia Roberts, just four months after her smash performance in “Pretty Woman.” The thing with “Flatliners,” including its long road to a remake, is that despite its reputation, it’s not particularly well-liked or well-remembered. The film opened to mixed reviews from critics, and while many have defended the film since its release, the fan base for the film isn’t particularly large at all. I can’t put my finger on why Sony would work so hard at producing a remake for the film, but for a film that I personally enjoy, as well as like to revisit for the sole reason that I dig how it plays between genres, I was down for the new “Flatliners.”

And even though it’s messy, still not scary and not the vast improvement it could’ve been, “Flatliners” still does its job.

Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) is a third year medical student at Trinity Emmanuel Medical School. Fascinated by the medical implications of death, she enlists the help of four of her fellow classmates, Jamie (James Norton), Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), Marlo (Nina Dobrev) and Ray (Diego Luna), to help her in an experiment to see what happens to the human brain minutes after death. Stopping Courtney’s heart, the team leave her dead for 60 seconds and revive her back to life. After describing her euphoric experience and finding scientific proof of brain activity corresponding with her experience, the rest of the team, sans Ray, go under to experience the same effects. As the team begins to experience increased intelligence, perception, sex drive and general drive to live life to the fullest, they begin to also experience some disturbing visions following their near-death experience. As the visions become more frequent and increasingly more personal and dangerous, the team must figure out how to rectify their next vision might be their last.

Off the bat, this film already has too good of a cast for a horror remake, at least from an establishment standpoint. All of these actors have all had much bigger work in the past that have put them on the map, and for some reason they end up here. But why complain about a cast being too good? Arguably, none of the actors’ work in this film is their best work, nor did I expect it to be, but the power they all bring to their performances does set the film apart. Page is quite good as Courtney, a confident, capable and tortured med student who only wants answers to assuage her guilt over a past event. Luna and Dobrev also deliver solid performances and quite good together in the film as a budding romance. Was the romance necessary? Of course not, but it doesn’t hurt that they at least have chemistry. Clemons delivers possibly the best performance in the film as Sophia, a sheltered girl just struggling to stay afloat with her workload. Clemons always plays the confident, talky types and I always appreciate an actor who goes outside their archetype and delivers on it. Sure, Clemons isn’t doing any major transformative work here, but from the budding star, this is a great point.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, filmmaker behind the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” he makes “Flatliners” much more attractive than it has any right to be. Sterile and grey, this isn’t the most colorful film in the world, nor does it seek to be. This is a relatively claustrophobic film that revels in the uncomfortable spaces that a hospital finds itself having. I also greatly appreciate Oplev’s restraint in not turning this remake into some sort of visual effect cluttered CGI-fest that uses ambitious imagery for the sake of distinguishing it from its original source material. This isn’t a film that tries to be flashy and hip, nor does it try to insert a million new plot points to be the “new and improved” version of the original.

And that’s where “Flatliners” is going to fall short for a lot of people. If you’re one of the people who doesn’t like the 1990 “Flatliners,” I’m almost certain that this new iteration will do nothing to sway you. This isn’t some revelation on the original material, it is what it is: a remake. Which comes to my first real issue with the film: Kiefer Sutherland. Sony has tried its hardest to avoid having this film being labeled a “remake” or a “reboot,” but rather a sequel because of Sutherland’s presence in the film. Sutherland, who starred in the original film, appears very briefly as what can only be assumed as his character from the original, but does literally nothing to advance the story in any which way to prove that it’s actually a sequel. This is a piss-poor attempt in trying to distance itself from the “remake” name, even though that’s exactly what “Flatliners” is. Take that or leave it.

Another issue I had with the film came in its screenplay. Generally, the characters are a bit too underwritten for such good performances. And while it really wasn’t a massive deal, the film occasionally did some things that just didn’t feel natural to the characters, mostly in regards to their partying once they’ve experienced flatlining. This irresponsible behavior doesn’t feel consistent with the characters we met earlier, and while it’s supposed to represent an “awakening,” the way in which these characters go about doing such things begin to feel less like a consistency issue and more like a “that’s not what normal humans” do issue. That being said, it’s fortunately not something that comes up very often, but when it does, it feels stilted and weird.

And then there’s the biggie: “Flatliners” isn’t scary, but is that a major issue? Let’s explore. If we look at the original film, that too wasn’t scary, but it had a charm to it that made it engaging and thrilling, a charm I also think this new version possesses. The thing here is how the film has been marketed by Sony as a straight-up horror film, which is not the case. This is a film that is much more about the dread and tone than it is about the scares (there are a few jump-scares, but they luckily aren’t egregious), and to instill a sort of expectations in audience members that they’re going to be scared is the same thing that sent “It Comes at Night” spiraling back down for its viewers. “Flatliners” is thrilling, but that’s exactly what this film is: a thriller, not a horror film.

Still, having seen the film in Dolby Cinema, I can wholeheartedly say that “Flatliners” has one of the better Dolby Atmos soundtracks I’ve heard to date. Impeccably designed and wonderfully executed. This film is a aural delight that really uses the basis of immersion and bass usage to a whole other level that I didn’t expect. If you see the film in theaters, take the leap to see it in Dolby.

Not particularly pertaining to the quality of the film, but I will say that “Flatliners” is a film that only got its PG-13 rating by the grace of god. While the film isn’t particularly explicit, the film does feature some pretty raunchy sex scenes and darker scenes of terror that one might not expect from the lesser rating as compared to its R-rated counterparts. Not really a critique, but still something worth noting.

Still, after everything is said and done, “Flatliners” isn’t bad, nor is it great. “Flatliners” is fine, and it’s a film that feels unfairly criticized when it is far from the worst horror film I’ve seen this year. Sure, it isn’t “It” by any means, but goddamnit at least it isn’t “Rings,” or “47 Meters Down,” or “Wish Upon,” or “Friend Request.” As a remake, I might go so far to call “Flatliners” successful, since it’s just as good as the original film in a way that still feels fresh today. It’s not better by any means, but it certainly isn’t any worse either. This is a glossy, well-acted, interesting and quite admirable take on a not-so-classic film. If anything, Hollywood needs to do remakes of films that might not have worked in the past, or didn’t get the attention it deserved, ones that could actually use improving, rather than rehashing beloved franchises. This worked for “It,” it worked for “Flatliners,” albeit to a much lesser degree and it can work for Hollywood too. People are always going to hate on remakes, so you might as well make the remakes that deserve to be remade, not just the ones that can make the most money.

3/5

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland.
Runtime: 110 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material and some drug references.
Also available in Dolby Cinema exclusively at Concord Mills.

Columbia Pictures presents, in association with Cross Creek Pictures, a Laurence Mark/Furthur Films/Safran Company production, a film by Niels Arden Oplev, “Flatliners”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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