Flatliners (2017) – Review


Flatliners is a film whose trailer caught my attention, however, for reasons you wouldn’t expect. Flatliners to me looked like it could be an interesting concept though it looked like it borrowed heavily from the Final Destination films, a series of films that I believe went down in rapid succession with every sequel, which kind of proves that this was pretty much a good idea for only one film and two at the absolute most. For the record, I did see the original 1990 film prior to watching this film, which may have been a large reason why this review either was close to, or was delayed getting out. It’s not very good when you have to delay a film review because you have to watch another one just to compare the two together and it was made even worse by the fact that I had to watch this film in particular.

Flatliners is, in my opinion, a very dull film. It may have an interesting premise, which I will go into when I discuss the plot of the film, and it has a stellar cast, including Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt, but all these guys have done much better films in other locations. Watching this is basically the equivalent of watching a very boring thriller that you have seen a lot of times over with some weird WTF imagery that will come out of nowhere more frequently than a Randy Orton RKO. I also think one of the reasons I didn’t like this film was because it is directed by one of my most hated directors, Joel Schumacher. Yes, everyone wants to hit on the guy for Batman and Robin, but frankly this guy really hasn’t made any good films. He directed the film St Elmo’s Fire, which, despite having the John Parr theme song stuck in everyone’s heads in an awful film of Titanic proportions and it is evident in the fact that John Parr hadn’t even seen the film prior to the song, hence why the song bears little or no resemblance to the film itself. Also, who could forget his appalling screenplay for the adaptation of the Wiz, a Jazz and Motown version of Wizard of Oz and he hasn’t really directed since the really ill-advised and appalling adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera 2004. Flatliners is probably one of his better films but it is only because he doesn’t delve too far into a lot of the tropes that really screwed him over the years.

The directing duties this time went to Niels Arden Oplev a Swedish director whose only notable credit prior to this film was the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is a film I kind of recommend. If you have only seen the David Lynch film starring Daniel Craig it’s still worth a watch. You aren’t going to get too many surprises since both films are relatively loyal to the book, but the Swedish film is more loyal to the book, for one thing it retains the ending of the book, though it veers off on a couple of occasions, plus if you want to see a follow-up, this one got sequels, neither of which Oplev directed. Though from what I could find looking at his filmography, this is his first English language film. So, with that rather than longer than usual introduction, how does Flatliners hold up? Did it improve at all on what I consider a rather boring film?

If you are aware of the original 1990 film, most of what I am going to say now is not going to come as a shock to you.
The plot revolves around five medical students, Courtney, Ray, Marlo, Jamie and Sophia, played by Ellen Page, Diego Luga, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons respectively. Following a traumatic experience from a few years ago, Courtney want to further her career and possibilities by doing off the book research into what happens to the brain during death experiences. To do so, she has the other students follow her into a disused medical facility and has them stop her heart whilst she is put into an MRI scanner. After it is successfully done, the others start putting themselves through the scanner and each start noticing that their skills in several departments are improving due to unlocking certain neurological potentials. However, it’s not all good news, they all then start to see visions from their past come back to haunt them. Is it just their brains driving them wild after being deprived of oxygen from near death, or is there something more going on and can they absolve the sins from their past?

Right, let’s start with the positives, this film did not bore me, unlike the original one, this film kept me engaged throughout most of the film. This new version’s main changes are all around the updates and technology, which is something I think greatly improved the film. In the original, they just document what they see down on pen and paper, they don’t really analyse it all that much. Granted, that’s a problem they have in this film, after the third go of doing this, but because they are put in the MRI scanner, we actually can see some tangible results and some research analysis, something which was profoundly missing from the original. I also liked the fact that while the original had their visions tied back to their sins, this time, because more characters went under we got to see not only more, but they almost always tied back to what was disturbing them in life. As I said, the original did do this, but it also tended to dive a lot more into WTF territory and it almost seemed like Joel Schumacher was putting whatever he wanted on screen. The new film also benefits from the fact that these characters actually look like medical students and this actually looks like a medical facility. Trust me, Joel Schumacher is not great with his sets, I almost think if you watch a Joel Schumacher film you would never believe that the actors are in their organic environment, you often can see the cracks and you can often tell it’s a sound stage.

The character arcs, once again, are pretty interesting and again they are all updated for the modern world. In fact, most people from the original will be happy to know that not only is this not a clone for clone remake in terms of the plot, it’s also not a clone for clone remake in terms of the characters. These are all new characters with all different grievances and back stories. The personalities and the back stories are kind of amalgams of the various characters. Certain characters pick up certain traits from different character, so, one of them for example, will get a bit of Kiefer Sutherland’s role in the group, but they will also retain something of Julia Robert’s back story, if you catch my drift. Diego Luna’s Ray is the only one who seems like he is rather mimicking any of the characters in the original, seeming to be very much the figure similar to Kevin Bacon’s character, being that he is the sensible one that believes the experiment goes too far, but sticks by the group because it is the bond he has developed with his friends.

The sins themselves this time range from once again, the death of a family member to a sexting scandal and even some of them go in quite interesting directions. Most of them feel more up to date with the modern world, despite the fact that I was kind of into a lot of the ideas they were going with, they are rather weak for the most parts. What I mean by that is the resolution feels week, only one of them is given a long time to develop. In the 1990 film, I at least appreciated that it took a while to develop the characters in that sense, this one doesn’t seem to be able to do that as much, in fact, the padding of the plot is still there, something that is not improved in either version. With this one, none of that padding time is taken up with character development, something which made this one significantly worse.

In the first half of Flatliners it has a lot more strengths to it than it has weakness and I was starting to get into the plot. There were some interesting ideas and the updated effects made a lot of the scenes very fun to watch. However, the halfway point is where it all comes crashing down!!! What was a rather interesting thriller, that seemed to be updating and improving on the original, turned into a generic horror film! It comes with all the tropes and the problems that come with those films. A lot of the second half of the film is stuff you would find out of place in a Poltergeist film. I’m not joking! The characters even go on about the idea of an evil identity pursuing them because of their thoughts of regret, something that was nowhere in the original and the original was all the better for it. In fact, it doesn’t even entertain the idea that this is all potentially in their heads from deprived oxygen causing potential brain damage. In fact, the film is so jump scare heavy it’s unbelievable. These scenes are phenomenally crap and predictable. In fact, I actually was surprised that this was a 2017 film, it feels like it should have been made ten years ago. Honestly, this is stuff that a lot of YouTube critics make fun of. Granted, it still has some potentially good ideas, but it never goes fully out with it, but the fact of the matter remains, it becomes a really generic film at that point and I found myself on auto pilot for the rest of the film. It also doesn’t help that the film’s ending feels like a weaker alternative resolution from the first film. By the way, if you have seen the first one, they set up the ending to be the same as the original one, but don’t stick the landing, though what you are expecting, does kind of happen, though it happens earlier than expected. The point I am making is that I appreciate this film tried to do something different, I did not want a shot for shot remake of Flatliners, but it took all the goodwill it had earnt in the first half and screwed it over.

Flatliner’s characters are also a bit too stuck. Further tying into the whole generic horror film vibe which didn’t help. I feel like this film has been made to appeal to jump scare heavy teens as a sort of a young adult’s horror film and it might appeal to some of that crowd, however, I think many of that crowd might be put off by it because it’s a bit too mild and though it will be jump scare heavy, which I have established are startles, not actual scares!! What’s phenomenal about Flatliners is how remarkably silly the plot is at times and at certain films you feel like you can’t take the film seriously. Plus, once again, the characters can be quite annoying at times. I won’t go into any further details because I am already veering close into breaking my rule of no spoilers with half of what I have said in this review, but I felt it necessary to really explain what my thoughts on the film are otherwise I would have an incredibly vague review. You probably feed out from that statement about the plot what worked and what didn’t in my opinion.

As for the cast, well, I think they are a mixed bag. I am a big Ellen Page fan ever since Juno and I think she is a good actress and she is one of the better actors in the film and she can really deliver on the emotional moments, however, I feel like she has been given a bit of poor direction in certain scenes because in some scenes she felt a bit robotic. That being said, however, I am really looking forward to seeing her in the Cured because that film looks amazing and trust me, this film is not going to break her career. Diego Luna is one of the better actors in the film, you may remember him from playing Cassian in Star Wars Rogue One which I reviewed in December. Bulgarian actress Nina Dobrev is pretty dam good for the most part, in fact, I wasn’t aware she was a Bulgarian actress until I looked it up, which proves that her American accent is very good, although she may live in America and that may be her natural accent, in which case I profusely apologise to her. James Norton, who if you are aware of the BBC series Happy Valley, he played Tommy in that series, is pretty good for the most part, though he does play one of the character archetypes which I didn’t really enjoy initially and he doesn’t really get to show his chops until towards the end of the film. Kiersey Clemons is probably one of the most interesting actors in the film. I previously saw her brilliant performance in the film Dope, which is a film I would recommend watching and she gave a brilliant performance in that film. However, in this film, I think she was a bit of a mixed bag, she gives good performances in her scenes early on, but some of the later scenes, particularly one where she really had to deliver it, and I wasn’t fully convinced, however, I have high expectations for her in the future, especially with her playing Iris West in the DC Cinematic Universe starting with the upcoming Justice League movie next month. Most of the cast do a decent job. The only other major note is Kiefer Sutherland returning in this film, as a nice nod and wink to fans of the original, though don’t get too excited, he is an extended cameo and only appears in three scenes. In fact, he looks so much like his 1990 counterpart you could almost believe this was a sequel taking place in the same Universe and it often feels somewhat distracting.

The effects for the most part are actually pretty good and I felt the soundtrack this time was an improvement on the original. Though the previous film is twenty-seven years old so it is not surprising that the effects have improved in that time, however, I found these ones delivered more in the punch and got them across. However, compared to a lot of the films that are coming out right now, the effects are not much to look at and they are very CGI heavy.

The 2017 version of Flatliners is a film that started out with some cool interest and intrigue but crashed and burned by the end. The film is trying to play it too easy and too safe for a younger audience and feels like it’s trying to appeal to the crowd who liked the Final Destination films. It’s not a mess, there was way too much I enjoyed about the film to call it a mess, but I will say it is a bad film on a purely technical level. I think compared to the original, they are on even planes, certain areas improved on the 1990 film and certain areas were much worse. I really don’t know how to classify it, personally to me it felt like a mixed bag and I wouldn’t take it over the original any day of the week. Honestly, I am probably just going to forget both films and never return to either. Doing this review involved me seeing two films and as a result it was rather exhausting.

That’s me done for the time being. The Axia ASD Ltd Film Society is technically on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I am at the London Film Festival, however, keep an eye on the website because by the time this review comes out, we will have been doing some Vlog reviews from the festival and we will be giving at least one a day so you will be getting your money’s worth.

I’m not sure when we will be back, but it will be prior to November and we will be reviewing Four Ragnarok and also potentially Happy Death Day.

Thanks a lot for reading this review. I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and keep an eye out for the return of the Axia ASD Ltd Film Society, we will be back in a couple of weeks.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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