Jacob Richardson | 01/10/2017
This dry, boring and frustratingly poorly made reconstruction of the 1990 film succeeds where the other failed; in making a movie utterly unwanted by anybody.
Courtney (Ellen Page) struggles with the guilt stemming from her hand in the car crash that killed her sister. To try and cope, she convinces two other medical students, Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to stop her heart; recording, as they do, her synaptic function before bringing her out before 4 minutes (or the time at which brain damage occurs) is up. Alas, they struggle to wake her, and the brilliant medical student Ray (Diego Luna) is called in to help, unwittingly bringing with him the curious Marlo (Nina Dobrev). When they do manage to bring Courtney back to life, it is to discover that she possesses incredible memory recall, leading Jamie, Sophia and Marlo to all undergo the same experience. What they don’t initially realise is that they have also brought something else back with them; the physical manifestation of their sins, come to haunt them in their real lives.
Flatliners is an incredibly sloppy piece of filmmaking. The original wasn’t beloved, but the 0% rotten tomatoes score for this remake is an indication of just how absent talent was in the making of the 2017 version. Director Niels Arden Oplev batters us with incredible amounts of dry, medical exposition, interspersed only with the most cliche, pandering bits of conversation (“This isn’t the time for explanations” she says, before 30 minutes of straight explanation). It’s filmmaking 101, a script composed of the discarded parts of other, better movies. It’s clumsy, leaden handed and frustratingly present throughout the duration of the film.
The actors don’t help it either. Page is dull on screen, Luna a shadow of himself in other films, and the rest of the five plod their way through this interminable dialogue with visible disdain. It’s a shame, because Page and Luna are such tremendous actors, they should be able to do more with the bare minimum they have been given on the page.
Perhaps their confusion with the script stems from the myriad plot holes. Flatliners is frustrating in its treatment of dialogue, but downright laughable in its logic. Whether they’re little mistakes like showing a picture of a second floor window lit-up against a night sky, when the group is meant to be in “sub-basement C”, or it’s Keifer Sutherland’s grouchy professor informing the group about the death of one of their friends, only to then ask them (presumably the most grief stricken of the class) to pick up her medical rounds, the film confounds in a multitude of ways. It would be anger-inducing, if it wasn’t for the fact that looking for these loopholes is the funnest part of the film. Indeed, without it we would be left with an incoherent, soap-opera dialogue, jump scare laden mess of a movie that would, for all intents and purposes, be unwatchable.
That’s not least because of Oplev’s direction, which is generally ham-fisted. An over reliance on music to create scares removes literally any surprise from the horror-laden second half of the film, and Oplev forgoes the use of scene-setting exterior shots to the point that timelines are impossible to ascertain, and character whereabouts means nothing. Whereas other directors may have interspersed a pair of shots where Jamie gets a knife stuck through his palm and the group talks around a table at a cafe about the horrors plaguing them with some exterior shots showing the passing of time, or the need for Jamie to travel there, Oplev decides the audience doesn’t need grounding in temporal reality and instead just cuts them back to back. It’s incredibly poor filmmaking, typical of student films with not enough budget or time to put together sufficient B-roll but unacceptable in a $19 million dollar hollywood blockbuster.
Flatliners should be screened in every film course from now until the end of time; the perfect example of how not to make a movie.