Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer: Ben Ripley, Peter Filardi
Producer: Laurence Mark, Michael Douglas, Peter Safran
Stars: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Beau Mirchoff, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Kiefer Sutherland
Experiments intended to explore the afterlife torment five medical students with haunting visions of their past sins.
Earlier this week I happened to be thumbing through a collection of recent-ish movies I’ve yet to watch and stumbled across the 2015 “Poltergeist” remake. For a brief moment, my mind went white with confused incredulity, fighting to find the memory that would disprove a momentary doubt that the movie actually existed. Then I remembered the remake being generally received with such passive disinterest, it’s no wonder I never bothered giving it a go, much less couldn’t recall it was made.
I suspect “Flatliners” 2017 will book passage on that same boat of “oh yeah, I forgot they remade that” indifference before sailing into a storm of complete apathy. Not because it is particularly poor. The film functions as competent filler for a basic cable channel in need of vanilla sci-fi/drama that plays to a PG-13 crowd.
It’s that the movie dilutes opportunities for originality with substandard suspense, and the low stakes story delivers a great deal of dullness in the thrills department. That’s not necessarily a recipe for total failure, although those are ingredients for a forgettable film.
Ben Ripley’s screenplay, or what ends up on the screen anyway, operates under the same setup as Peter Filardi’s 1990 script. Five medical students, distinguished by stereotypically disparate personalities yet united by “Grey’s Anatomy” attractiveness, conduct a clandestine experiment to stop their hearts and explore the afterlife. When they are subsequently resuscitated, the aspiring doctors discover that haunting visions have followed them back to the land of the living. Now they are tormented by waking nightmares of secret sins seemingly pushing them toward a permanent death.
The movie’s not-so-secret sin is that it doesn’t do much to advance or even contemporize the original film. Scuttlebutt says test screening trepidations led to watering things down for simplicity’s sake. Kiefer Sutherland’s cameo that could have connected “Flatliners” to its 1990 namesake became a speaking extra role as a negligible inclusion. A freaky side effect where each flatliner returns with a different mental enhancement earns a few mentions, yet no deeper side story development. Sony apparently preferred a safety net of straightforwardness over taking the premise anywhere crazy or creative, resulting in reediting for maximum blandness.
Basically, the biggest difference between the two films comes down to cast. Think of “Flatliners” 2017 like a cover song playing a melody note for note with the same sounds and tempo, except the band has changed. Do you like Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev? Better yet, do you prefer them to Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Bacon? The former three at least feature enough to be worth a marginally intriguing watch for their fans, if nothing else. And there isn’t much else.
Slowing the pulse as hard as anything is a pace that waits until the halfway point has passed before truly turning the mood macabre. Even then, certain sequences of tension never work, like when ghostly visions repeatedly haunt one young doctor on his boat. These scenes come before the revelation of what he did wrong in his past, which means we know he can’t die unless exposition arrives first. This leaves “Flatliners” with a lot of empty threats, and these setups are filled with basic “boo!” moments that haven’t squeezed out a squeal from audiences since black-and-white films were still in style.
The fact that I’m only 80% of the way toward my usual word count yet my notes are already exhausted reveals quite a bit about the film’s substance and lasting impression. “Flatliners” isn’t terribly shabby overall. It simply isn’t special in any regard either. So if this is all there is to it, then the takeaway question becomes, why bother Xeroxing the first “Flatliners” at all, especially when the original holds up on its own?
Review Score: 55