Flatliners (2017)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer: Ben Ripley
Remake of: Flatliners (1990)
Cast: Elliot Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland
Seen on: 26.1.2023

Courtney (Elliot Page), Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) are medical students under Dr. Wolfson (Kiefer Sutherland). He demands much of them, but that doesn’t mean that Courtney doesn’t have time to do her own research. She is particularly interested in life after death, and hopes to find proof for it by dying while inside a CT scanner. To be brought back to life, she needs help, though – cue the other students. The first attempt is a resounding success that brings the others to want to try it, too. But it’s a risky experiment with unforeseen consequences.

I haven’t seen the original, but I can understand why it would draw people to remake it: the material is strong, the idea is promising. The execution, however, at least in this iteration, is only middling, spiraling out of control just as things are supposed to get interesting and tense.

The film poster showing a head in profile. A cardiac line is running vertically through the image. On the right side of it, the face is blurred and prismed into colors.

I really liked the idea, and I liked the five central characters and their different reasons for giving the experiment a try (or, in one case, not give it a try in a stunning moment of ethical reasoning that is troublingly absent from everybody else). The cast works well together, with Page and Luna proving why they are the bigger names in this ensemble with their fantastic performances. (Also, damn, that scene where Marlo and Ray make out is sizzling.)

That being said, the second half of the film squanders its premise and its characters. Descending into a morality tale that, to me, made very little sense and could have used more ambiguity whether it’s divine intervention or the power of a guilty subconscious, is already a hard sell. But it is actually the horror parts that work the least. While the visuals of the dream-like sequences are not bad, the film is all build-up and very little pay-off, so you very quickly just don’t care anymore, nevermind actually being scared.

Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev) and Courtney (Elliot Page) sitting on the roof of the hospital, looking exhausted.

I also would have liked a little more of a scientific approach from the medical students. It’s not just that they need very little convincing to experiment on themselves, but it’s also the way they assess the data they gather with their experiment: with anecdotal incidences and a whole lot of conjecture. If it’s only science when you write it down, Flatliners doesn’t even own a pencil. And that is a problem in a SciFi film, putting the rest of the film on shaky ground to begin with.

The film isn’t all bad, and it is paced well enough that you don’t really have time to be bored with it, even when it tries and fails to scare you. The characters kept me engaged as well. But there is a better film in there, desperately trying to claw its way out. And I would have liked to see that.

Jamie (James Norton), Courtney (Elliot Page), Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev) standing around a CT scanner in which Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) is lying.

Summarizing: should have been better.

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