a critiQal film review Flatliners (2017)

Plot: Five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife. But as their experiments become increasingly dangerous, they are each haunted by the sins of their pasts, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.

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Despite all the negative press surrounding this film (was there anyone who liked this film?), we still wanted to check out Flatliners. So, to prep, we went back and watched Flatliners (1990), just to set it as a baseline for our experience.

Could this new film really be as bad as the general consensus? Or was nostalgia taking center stage over quality and/or substance? Does Flatliners (1990) – which we rated at a “middling” two-and-a-half stars – really hold that special of a place in people’s hearts – or is the new film truly awful?

Ellen Page leads the cast in the new Flatliners and, admittedly, seems to be slightly miscast in the role. Too fresh-faced in the film to be playing a med student, she looks more like a “Doogie Howser, MD” (TV) genius when mixed in with her classmates. While she’s obviously old enough for the part (her role in Inception (2010) seemed much more on the mark), it’s gotta be something to do with the makeup for this film. Toss in a brief moment in the beginning of the film when the viewer is almost convinced she’s supposed to be playing a mom to what looks to be a 10-year-old, and it gets even weirder.

Despite her young looks, however, she does end up doing a decent job in the role. And, with this film spending a little more time on character building than the previous one, she does get a chance to act a bit, which she usually seems to excel at. Flatliners is no exception to that rule.

The rest of the cast are decent enough as well. While none are real standouts, Diego, Nina, James and Kiersey all play their parts well enough. Oddly, however, despite the more time spent on character development, they never really shine on their own – just as part of the group.

Flatliners has learned a few things from it’s predecessor. Unlike the 1990 version, the stakes are amped up much higher than a beating or two, which adds an edge the earlier film sorely lacked. As mentioned above, there’s a bit more character development too, which can’t be anything but good. While the previous film was more of a psychological drama about atoning for one’s sins, director Niels Arden Oplev turns the new film into more of a horror flick, complete with thrills and chills throughout. Without upping the ante this time around, that could have been a bad thing, as no one is scared of shadows forever if they realize there aren’t dire consequences attached.

Thanks to advancements in special effects, they also managed to up the “death” sequences, making them seem more fantastical and otherworldly than the previous version. While Flatliners (1990) turned the “death” experiences into a dull normalcy, Flatliners makes them seem more like out-of-body experiences worth seeing.

All in all, while Flatliners is far from a perfect film, it still manages to update and improve on the original in ways viewers supposedly should have been looking for. So why such a negative response? A lot of it seems to hinge on a comment Kiefer Sutherland made back in 2016 during an interview with Metro where he states that it will “probably be understood” that he will be playing the same character with a name change. This got everyone excited about a sequel, rather than a reboot (despite the title of the article including the word “reboot”). Instead, what they got was a reboot, which apparently crushed dreaming fans so badly they took it out on the new film.

Is Flatliners deserving of this punishment by critics (it’s currently at 5% on Rotten Tomatoes)? Not really. I can think of several films over the past years that have done a lot worse – including the pointless shot-by-shot remake of Pyscho back in 1998 that starred Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. To be clear, I actually haven’t seen that remake yet, but think about it. Someone had to greenlight that idea – a shot-by-shot remake of an iconic Hitchock pic – with Vince freakin’ Vaughn and Anne Heche! Ugh (and that’s currently at 37% on Rotten Tomatoes). But I digress…

It seems film (and TV shows) of our youth cause our memories to grow fonder the longer we go without seeing them again. To enjoy the new Flatliners, try watching Flatliners (1990) first. That should help break you free from that nostalgia trap and realize the new film is actually an improvement on the 1990 version.

But yeah, I gotta admit, it could have been better as a continuation of some sort – Kiefer’s character is the biggest dropped ball in this new version, and utterly pointless for the storyline.

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