Film Review: Flatliners (USA, 2017) shows very little signs of life

When a film isn’t pre-screened for media or has its review embargo lifted on the same day of release, you know that the studio isn’t confident in the quality of their product. And this is what happened with the latest remake (although, in recent reports, it is claimed to be a sequel) of Flatliners.

At first glance, this seems surprising. The film had assembled quite a line-up of talent. A good director, a talented cast, an experienced crew and a bonkers premise that could be well-utilized in this day of age. So will the film surprise and actually show signs of life, or will the film be dead on arrival?

Five medical students, led by Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) embark on a daring and dangerous experiment to discover if there is anything to be experienced beyond death. It is there where the group decides to trigger near-death experiences by stopping their hearts for short periods of time.

As they go through their respective experiences, becoming more risky and impulsive, each must confront the sins from their past while facing the paranormal consequences of journeying to the other side.

I’m just gonna lay it down flat on the (operating?) table and say this remake is nothing as bad as the film release may imply, but there really isn’t much of anything to say that is praiseworthy or even worthy of… anything.

The original 1990 film, directed by Joel Schumacher, had a goofy tone that varies between sincere and surreal. It becomes quite fun, and thankfully for the most part, the remake actually keeps that tone in check. There are some scenes that are so out-of-place that you can’t help but laugh, even if in retrospect if the laugh was more out of embarrassment rather than actually being earned. An example is a scene in the film where one character has just been “flatlined” and he (or she) escapes the confines of his (or her) parentage to the point where he (or she) becomes fully committed in a night of prurience.

Although it retains the goofiness of the original, what it lacks is its inspired visuals. Say what you want about director Joel Schumacher, but the man never slacks off in making his films look stylish with characters with big hair, back-lit sets, nipples on suits, overstated colour schemes and energetic camera movement. But in the case of the remake, director Niels Arden Oplev does absolutely nothing to stand out from the crowd as he adopts a sleek, yet bland look that we’ve seen a hundred times over from many other films.

The cast, like the original, give fine performances and make the most out of the material. Ellen Page lends gravitas to her role and grounds the film; ditto for Diego Luna as Ray, the rational one of the group; Nina Dobrev is quite good as Marlo, who has feelings of inadequacy; Kiersey Clemons (who’s fantastic in Dope) is enjoyably moody as Sophia, who feels suffocated in the confines and expectations of her life and lastly James Norton makes his brash character quite likable.

Speaking of likable, there are a few changes in the film that was nice to see. One of them does make the film a bit more unoriginal but it lends a much-needed sense of threat, which lead to a minor shock (keyword: minor) that got me quite a bit. But the filmmaking at hand does its best (or worst?) to alleviate all of that with telegraphed scares and sloppy editing.

There’s one scene in the film where a character is being threatened and is stabbed with a knife in the hand. But in the very next scene, the character is fine and dandy (with a minor bandage on the hand) as if nothing had happened. Where’s the tension and payoff from that?

There really isn’t much more to say about the Flatliners remake except that it is a completely unnecessary, if not terrible piece of work. Nothing to mourn over, but no evidence to suggest it contains true signs of life.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Flatliners is in cinemas now.

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Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.

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