Flatliners movie review: DOA

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Flatliners red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

The reboot no one asked for of a movie no one much remembers has landed… and it’s dead on arrival, with nothing new to say and no new way to say it.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a fan of some of the cast
I’m “biast” (con): tired of all the reboots
I have seen the source material (and I don’t much like it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The reboot no one asked for of a movie no one much remembers has landed… and it’s dead on arrival. Oh, this new and pointless Flatliners deserves all the terrible death-related puns we can toss at ittweet: “Someone should have put a do-not-rescusitate on the 1990 movie.” “A fate worse than death.” “Brain dead.” “Send it to the morgue.” C’mon, it’s fun!

I rewatched the original Flatliners to remind myself how very unsuccessful it was at creating scares or making us care about its medical students who “kill” themselves and get revived after a few minutes for the lulz of a near-death experience. Incredibly, this “update” has found absolutely nothing new to say and no way to expand the concept,tweet and might actually be less effective in the engaging-our-empathy department. Screenwriter Ben Ripley (Source Code), sharing a story credit with 1990 writer Peter Filardi, tosses an MRI machine into the scenario this time: the students record their brain activity while “dead.” But this is a meaningless tangent, merely a way to add some 2010s-looking shiny tech to the set design. And it trips some plausibility alarms, too: If there really were a separate, second, fully equipped but completely deserted hospital in the subbasement of the other fully equipped and completely operational hospital above where these med students are med-studenting, would they really get such easy access to it to play there? Would no one notice what they doing?

It was like I was floating outside my career. It was so peaceful...
It was like I was floating outside my career. It was so peaceful…tweet

The Scooby gang here is an improvement over the 1990 film, in that it consists of three women and two men. (The earlier one was a bunch of guys and The Girl.) But they’re a mixed bag of believability. Nina Dobrev’s (Chloe) Marlo and Kiersey Clemons’s (Dope) Sophia are at least age appropriate as med students. Thirty-year-old Ellen Page (My Life as a Zucchini, Freeheld) — as Courtney, the instigator of the project — can pass for younger; 32-year-old James Norton (Bonobo, Mr. Turner), as ladies’ man Jamie, looks older than he is. And the movie attempts to shrug off 37-year-old Diego Luna (Rogue One, The Bad Batch) as a mature student because he “spent nine years as a firefighter in Houston,” a line of dialogue that is weighted with significance and turns out to mean absolutely nothing. Sure, there are older students in every field, but the risks these people are taking are only credible — and then only passingly — when it is the folly of arrogant, immortal-feeling youth at work. (The cast of the original film were all younger, and, more importantly, looked it.)

People start to feel bad about the not-nice things they’ve done. Oooo, spine-chilling!

For a little while, the NDE returnees get supercharged brain activity, like Bradley Cooper in that Limitless movie. As with the MRI, this is another ostensibly “new” twist on the concept that goes nowhere. Courtney bakes bread from her grandma’s long-forgotten recipe and suddenly can play the piano beautifully. Sophia does a Rubik’s cube ultraquick. (A Rubik’s cube? Way to retro, I guess.) Soon, though, they are all being haunted by guilt over bad things they’ve done, taunted by memories of people they’ve hurt in the past… but who needs an NDE for that to happen? (Hell, I’ve lain awake at night wondering why on earth I said that to someone 20 years ago.) The nightmarish dreamscapes of the memory-hauntings in the 1990 movie — which, as previously noted, were still not terribly scary — have been replaced by the stock spooks of “eerily” darkened corridors, radios emitting strange voices, and shadowy figures passing by while characters’ attention is elsewhere. Somehow, director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has highlighted something that the original film managed to distract us from: here we have the least interesting extrapolation of the NDE phenomenon possible. People start to feel bad about the not-nice things they’ve done? Oooo, spine-chilling!

“Hey, maybe we should put that brain-reading doohickey on the screenwriter and it can tell us what this movie is about...”
“Hey, let’s put that brain-reader on the screenwriter and it can tell us what this movie is about…”tweet

As with its predecessor, this Flatliners cannot commit to a groundwork for its story. Is something supernatural going on? Is it merely that the gray matter of all the NDE returnees has gone a little soft? The movie doesn’t even know what genre it is, and that’s not a matter of intriguing ambiguitytweet (would that that were the case). It’s a matter of being too spineless to know itself, to know what it wants to be about. Flatliners cannot even commit to being trashy: it gets Kiefer Sutherland (Zoolander 2, Pompeii) back from the 1990 film as one of the students’ teachers, a veteran doctor, but he’s not the same character who flatlined himself all those years ago. Now, there would be some grade-A cheese: the students stumble across some of his notes that should have been destroyed, delve into NDEs… and find Kiefer on the other side. Or discover his experiments on himself have driven him mad. Or maybe he does know what they’re up to in the subbasement and has his own nefarious reasons for letting them keep at it. There are possibilities here. They are all ignored.

“We’re way beyond explanations,” Marlo says when the students are trying to figure out why they’re having weird experiences. Er, no, we’re not. For starters, I want an explanation of why this movie got made when there are so many new stories waiting to be told.

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Sat, Sep 30, 2017 9:53am

Too bad, because the 1990s Flatliners was exactly the kind of movie that could do with a remake. If the original is terrible, why bother? If the original is brilliant, the new flick will almost certainly suffer by comparison. If the original has an interesting premise with meh execution, as Flatliners did, well, maybe there’s some potential to be mined.

Of course, the remake is usually as meh as the first one, but I live in hope.

Sun, Oct 01, 2017 4:36pm

Happy to stay away from this one!

MJ, what did you think about the NetFlix original (adaptation) “Gerald’s Game?” I though the techniques they used to adapt the hard-to-film source material were clever without being too cute or caricature. The ending was a little more drawn out than it needed to be, but overall it was time well-spent.

reply to  MidxMidwest
Mon, Oct 02, 2017 3:23am

What does that show have to do with this movie? And why are you soliciting her opinion, when you’ve made it perfectly clear what you think of her criticism?

reply to  Bluejay
Mon, Oct 02, 2017 4:24am

Her writing a B.S. review about mother! doesn’t disqualify her from being a decent criti c–just one disingenuous about her biases. Given her feminist lens, I was curious about her thoughts on This other film, since it’s probably more interesting to discuss than Flatliners.

reply to  MidxMidwest
Mon, Oct 02, 2017 12:48pm

Let me get this straight:

1) You want to derail a comments section about a specific film by starting a discussion about a completely unrelated film.

2) You’re inviting MAJ to engage in this discussion while openly calling one of her reviews “B.S.” for its feminist lens and basically arguing that she’s blinkered. And you want her to talk about this other film because you want to see how her “B.S.” feminist lens processes it.

Call me crazy, but I’m gonna hazard a guess that she’s not going to be inclined to engage. You might want to work on learning how to draw people into a good-faith discussion without putting them off.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MidxMidwest
Thu, Oct 12, 2017 8:00pm

Do not derail comments threads. If/when I have something to say about *Gerald’s Game,* you can comment there.

Awesome Welles
Awesome Welles
reply to  MidxMidwest
Mon, Dec 11, 2017 10:50pm

Btw, a lot of the aicn talkbackers are over at The Man Who Saved Movies now just in case you hadn’t heard.

Mon, Oct 02, 2017 9:50am

I suspect the initial process went something like:
“What’s a marketable name the ageing eighties kids will recognise? Without that, we don’t get the money men to sign on.”
“I remember Flatliners.”
“Great! Now we start the sausage machine.”

For horror in particular, the film production companies seem to believe that there’s a substantial audience which will be increased by name recognition (perhaps “like that film your dad goes on about, only with young pretty actors in it”) and won’t be put off by terrible reviews. They may even be right.

(Make this as a science fiction story rather than a horror story and you could start exploring the ideas and changing the world. Horror has a tendency to be about how going outside the circle is a Bad Thing.)

Mon, Oct 02, 2017 7:16pm

Also, as a magical coincidence we have the smokin’ hot female lead character (playing a doctor) with a lot of close-up scenes wearing a sports bra. It’s the old movie formula that a woman’s intelligence in the movie is directly proportional to the skimpiness of her clothes.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  rick
Thu, Oct 12, 2017 8:02pm

Actually, the sports bras the women are wearing are a LOT less revealing or titillating than other underwear options might have been. I didn’t have a problem with this.

Wed, Oct 04, 2017 3:45pm

Flatliners Full Hd Here ==> FLATLINERSMOVIE2017.BLOGSPOT.COM

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 2:37pm

I was looking for the new ‘Blade Runner’ times and ‘discovered’ they remade this film. It makes one question their publicity department.