Review: Flatliners (2017)

Remakes and reboots are, I think, best seen without the original fresh in the mind. I don’t have any particular nostalgia for the 1990¬†Flatliners; though I was – and am – a fan of the original stars, the movie itself never resonated with me. So I’m not comparing. I went to see the remake/reboot/sequel with an open mind.

Honestly, I am not sure if its a bad movie or if its simply that it doesn’t work for me for the same reasons the original doesn’t. While my memory of the original is fuzzy, I don’t think they’ve updated much. A medical student obsessed with finding out what’s on the other side of death (Ellen Page) enlists her fellow students in an experiment which she thinks will give her answers. She wants to “die” for one minute, after which they will restart her heart. She will record what’s happening in her “dead” brain in an MRI machine.

And here’s where my own prejudices destroy my ability to suspend disbelief. It’s simply that the experiement proves absolutely nothing. the near-death experience is entirely subjective, and all the MRI can really prove is that brain function hasn’t yet shut down (which as a medical student she already knows). If anything in the experience really is supernatural, science cannot prove it because the scientific method requires the experiment be repeatable, with the same result. And if there’s a God, or if there’s an immortal soul, those aren’t going to respond the same way to fake death as they would to the real thing. So the whole premise – for me – falls to bits.

But beyond that, is it a good film? It has a great core cast. Ellen Page I’ve loved in everything I have seen her in. Nina Dobrev is a talented actress and Diego Luna is also really good. And they all do great with the material they have, but that material unfortunately lacks something.

After Courtney (Page) does her trip to the other side, she has a really great day. Her mind is clear. She recalls obscure facts and shines in class. She plays piano; something she hasn’t done in 12 years. Her classmates attribute this to her “flatline” experience and are keen to try it. One by one, they do. And while some side effects seem to be good, it comes with a downside: each is “haunted” by some past misdeed and begins to hallucinate. Then one of them is killed by it and, as the saying goes, shit gets real.

The film is at its best when the characters are having fun, or doing the normal things med. students do. There’s real chemistry between the leads and the friendly competetiveness, the willingness to let loose and party after a stressful experience, the youthful recklessness alongside dedication to a tough job, or less worthy ambition – it all rings very true.

It’s the horror elements that don’t quite work. The scenes that are meant to be scary somehow just aren’t. There is tension, and I did care about the characters, but the terror of what each was going through never really came across emotionally. As a result, even after the first death, I never really felt they were in peril. And that’s a failure of writing and direction, not the performances.

So…no. If you’re a fan of the original, go watch that again and forget this one. If you’re not, it’s worth a watch but don’t ¬†spend money on it. Wait for it to show up on Netflix.