Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Genre: Drama, Psychological Horror
It feels almost unfair to kick dirt on a movie that is currently sitting at an astonishingly low 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I have a job to do.
Let’s just get this out of the way: FLATLINERS fails spectacularly in almost every regard. Yes. The worst part about this is that it has no real reason to. The film’s premise is pretty damn interesting, with endless possibilities and questions worth exploring built right in. What lies beyond death? What awaits us? Can it be measured, monitored, studied? And can a part of that, whatever it is, be brought back with us? FLATLINERS does nothing with this premise, explores nothing, answers nothing. It’s one, big, $19,000,000 nothingburger.
Low-tier horror movies come and go with startling frequency—a good number of those being remakes. So much so that you probably didn’t think twice at the juxtaposition of those words. However, more often than not, films of that sort don’t sport much talent to speak of, let alone a unique or interesting story. Forgiving the standard litany of cheap, predictable, poorly-rendered jump scares, the unbelievably stupid and unnatural character decisions that allow these scares to happen in a supposedly real world (why would you get into an elevator by yourself when a supernatural force is out to get you, especially after it literally just came after you?!), and the film’s cavalier attitude towards consistency and coherence, there’s enough going for it to make for a decently entertaining, if not terribly memorable, flick. Right? There are a good number of reputable actors attached to this thing, and it’s not like director Niels Arden Oplev has really dropped the ball before. He did the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, as well as the super slick, super cool MR. ROBOT pilot. So what gives? Did he owe someone a favor? Is someone blackmailing him? Does he need our help?
The cast, as mentioned, is solid, too. Big names like Ellen Page and Kiefer Sutherland round out a cast of fresh, young talent, and everyone ranges from pretty good to good in their performances. The caveat is that their characters are all puerile, unsympathetic, and wholly unlikable. They also have some weirdly underdeveloped, eyebrow-raising motivations for gambling with suicide, running the gamut from “I accidentally killed my sister and I want to see if I can reach her in the afterlife” to “I want to get better test scores.” One of these “better test scores” characters is Jamie (James Norton), a trust fund fuckboi who lives on a sailboat and drinks a mix of Mountain Dew and Adderall before exams. Fantastic. It doesn’t matter if he screws the pooch and flunks out of med school, his parents have so much money he could get away with doing anything. Probably even murder. In fact, while watching this pompous jagoff dole out unwarranted sexual advances, I could not stop thinking about one thing: how much I would have loved to have seen Glenn Howerton in the role! You know, Dennis from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA! Imagine it. A cold, calculating man—a man not bound by ethics, empathy, or even sanity—toying with the lives of others. Playing God—a Golden God, if you will—for a thrill. A man who just wants to get off.
Jamie isn’t even the least likeable of the bunch. Of the five main characters, four take part in Courtney’s (Ellen Page) little extracurricular murder-suicide project. The only one who doesn’t is Ray (Diego Luna), who coincidentally is the brightest, most promising student. Anywho, the four self-proclaimed “flatliners” also happen to harbor dark secrets which begin to manifest once they cross over. I’ll spare the breakdown, but if this movie is about guilt, coming to terms with past sins and finding a way to forgive one’s self, why did the filmmakers make such a point of having Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) loudly bang Jamie while her exasperated mother—her mother who spent her entire life’s savings to put her into medical school, who moved all the way to Toronto to support her—protests from the other room? Would that brazen act of spite not be another thing she would have to answer for? Yeah, sure, helicopter parents are a drag, but on what planet is humiliating a loved one who sacrificed everything for you a proud moment? Is that not something a normal human being would feel the slightest twinge of guilt over? Or is this just the kind of behavior skin-suit-wearing writer Ben Ripley imagines millennials get up to between his hourly feedings on the crickets he buys bulk at the human store PetSmart? Many questions.
A quick rundown on some of the other problems with this movie would go something like this: spastic, disengaging editing; a deeply confused, jarring soundtrack that can’t fully commit to aping Cliff Martinez because it spends so much time jumping from song to song; lousy dialogue; plot threads that either don’t go anywhere or are dropped altogether; a gripping cold sensation and the realization that your life is slipping away from you . . . plotholes. It’s a perfect storm of suck. But cataloguing all the ways in which FLATLINERS falls short would be as pointless as it would be exhausting, especially considering how that’s all generally par for the course for bad horror movies. No, it isn’t nearly as bad, inept, lazy, or dumb as a 4% score would suggest. It just kind of is. If I’m being fair, the most accurate assessment I can give this movie is that it feels like it belongs on the Freeform channel.
At least he thinks I’m funny
It’s hard to believe that a Joel Schumacher film from 1990 would be superior to anything in 2017, but here we are. Which begs the question: just where are we in 2017? It may also be worth asking why this FLATLINERS remake is a thing, but probably not. It hasn’t exactly fallen on deaf ears that moviegoers are sick and tired of remakes. (This past Summer did see the worst box office returns in 25 years, after all.) A better question might be what happened to Ellen Page’s career? And is Diego Luna’s already over? Did I sleep? Did I dream? Are we now to the point where Hollywood mucky-mucks have decided that mining middling films with no real cultural significance is a good idea? Are we done with the ‘80s? Is it enough that source material simply be not unpopular now? How much further must we stray from God’s light? There are a lot of questions to be asked, most of them rhetorical. The real question, I guess, is why remake something if you make no effort to improve upon it at all?
I’ve gone off on remakes before, but I still can’t say I have a full grasp on Hollywood’s remake problem. THE MUMMY was so offensive because it was a soulless rebranding of a classic, historically significant film, but it’s not like remakes are always bad (which is a part of why this trend is so frustrating). In keeping with a sci-fi/horror theme, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), THE THING (1982), and THE FLY (1986) are all masterpieces within the genre. They also all happen to be remakes. That INVASION has been remade twice since then, and THE THING got its own meh prequel/quasi-remake in 2011 is just another part of the problem. Schumacher’s FLATLINERS was never really anything, though. It’s a bottle cap in a dig site. And this remake isn’t anything special either—little more than a CGI-laden modern retelling—and I think therein lies the problem.
Sorry, guys. It’s almost over
The SAS have a motto, “Who Dares, Wins.” FLATLINERS ultimately fails because it makes no effort to rise above its predecessor. The cast is much more diverse, yeah, the medical stuff is more accurate, the effects look nice enough, and there are some fairly imaginative scares, but that’s all just window dressing. The movie fails because, in every way that counts, it plays it safe. The answers to all of those questions about life and death are left in the void between. It makes no assertions, takes no stance on anything. It has no heart. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself here, but things that have no spirit or fight in them arouse contempt. FLATLINERS may not be the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it is certainly the most lifeless.
And as for the age-old question of what happens after death? I suspect the answer is the same for the question of what is at the heart of Hollywood’s remake campaign: unending darkness.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend