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Remake: the very word sends a shudder down the spine of horror fans. Now it’s not only the iconic films from the genre but mediocre offerings from the early ’90s and the results are what you would expect.
Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) is a medical student who asks for help with an experiment, to monitor what happens to the brain straight after death. After the experiment is a success, Courtney has a new lease on life and her fellow students also undergo the procedure. But after the euphoria the students start to get haunted by events from their past.
Considering Flatliners is a remake, it had a talented creative team behind: it was directed by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, best known for making the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and scripted by Ben Ripley – the writer of Source Code. There are a few minor improvements over the original film: the film actually shows how the medical students came together, the setting is more realistic than the originals and what they set out to achieve made more and there is an epilogue to the film. Unfortunately, the film is a big steaming pile of garbage in the middle.
During the first 20 minutes it was easy to believe in the film’s own logic and the reasoning behind it even if the science presented does not match reality. It is after Courtney undergoes the experiment that the film dive bombs into stupidity because it is revealed that by nearly killing themselves unlocks all their mental potential. Courtney remembers everything she has ever done or read and Jamie (James Norton) becomes an instinctively perfect doctor. It turns the film into a copy of Limitless and Lucy where characters access 100% of their brains: but there is a logic in those films if you accept the premise that humans only use 10% of their brains. It’s a bigger stretch to believe that killing yourself for a few minutes would make people super smart.
The premise would be acceptable if the characters were likable or intriguing: they were not. When the characters are introduced their character traits include womanizer (Jamie) to know-it-all doctor, Ray (Diego Luna), who plays tricks on his colleagues and patients. The one character that was likable was Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), a stressed student from a modest background who has an overbearing mother: but even she was ruined when it’s revealed that her great sin was extremely heinous and the flatlining experience lets out her inner-bitch.
As the character Marlo (Nina Dobrev) says the doctors could market it as a party drug and that does describe the audience that the remake is aiming for: teenagers and young adults. It’s a film that shows the characters acting like they are high, smashing up Courtney’s apartment, going to raves and partying: it is tedious. Ray describes the students as stupid and that is a thought that was going through my mind when watching.
Whilst the 1990 version of Flatliners was far from a great film it at least pretentions of grander themes about religion and the nature of the afterlife. The original embraced Christian imaginary and acknowledge that if the afterlife is proven to exist it would fundamentally change society. Both versions have a theme about guilt, forgiven and redemption but it worked better in the original because of its acceptance of Christianity. Director Joel Schumacher gave the original a gritty, downbeat look that made the 1990 version feel more authentic compared to the gross look of the remake, having cinematography and use of CGI for the near-death experiences.
The characters in the remake are a copy of the originals. Sophia is like Kevin Bacon’s role, a poorer student who has the same story arc. Like William Baldwin’s Joe, Jamie is a womanizer who has to pay for his sins. Ray has the Oliver Platt role, the voice of reason and Courtney and Marlo are combinations of the Julia Robert and Kiefer Sutherland characters.
Kiefer Sutherland has a role in the film has a role in the film giving some people the impression that Flatliners (2017) was going to be a sequel. This is not the case: there is no reference to the previous film and the story and many plot points in the 2017 version are the same as the original. Sutherland’s scenes are more like a re-enactment of Scrubs as he quizzes and berates his students.
The 2017 version Flatliners serves as a textbook example of how not to make a mainstream horror film or a remake. It does not add anything new to the original and having characters that should have a gruesome death.