Starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
One of the stranger jokes in The Lonely Island’s enjoyable mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is when Bill Hader’s manic roadie says his spare time is taken up flatlining, saying he got the inspiration “from the 1990 movie, directed by Joel Schumacher, shot by Jan de Bont”. It’s an odd reference in a film filled with them, but it shows that the legacy of a 1990s supernatural tinged horror-thriller with a brat-pack cast lives on as an oddity in it’s field.
The original Flatliners is not a work of brilliance, nor is it the worst thing in the world. It’s pretty much the middle ground for the main players involved. It’s not Schumacher’s worst (take Batman & Robin, or 8mm), nor his best (see Falling Down, Phone Booth, or A Time to Kill), same with the stars, so why the choice to make a sort of hybrid reboot-weirdness? Well, nostalgia is pure money at the box office, It is currently proving that. But whereas the original boasted a brat-pack cast of Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt this one has a much more intriguing, diverse but less box office friendly cast.
The story is basically the same: five medical students discover that if they flatline they can see the afterlife, but in coming back from being technically dead they bring something sinister back with them. This time around, the players are Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, Kiersey Clemons and James Norton, this time playing with their roles with enthusiasm.
While the five all play their roles, some get better luck with their characters than others. Page is given three dimensional role, and the one with the most interesting arc, while Diego Luna is his usual quietly endearing self, and given the hint of an interesting back story that’s never explored. Dobrev and Norton fair less well with characters who fall into the cliche side of things; the beautiful one with the not-so-dark secret and the shag-aholic fuckboy who lives on a boat. But Clemons, soon to possibly be seen in Justice League… maybe, nails her role as the timid and repressed Sophia, she gets the best narrative arc, and character development, even if the resolution falls a little flat.
It probably helps that Niels Arden Oplev is a competent director. Having cut his teeth on the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dead Man Down, he shows off his skill as a filmmaker, and the film is done well. The sense of location, of foreboding and the jumps are all pulled off really well. Much like Schumacher, he’s a stylish director so it’s no wonder that the film stands up on it’s merits.
Where the film falls down is just how cliche it all is, but then again what would you expect from the quasi-sequel to a so-so 90s thriller? The film doesn’t really know what to do with itself once the central concept has been ploughed through. There doesn’t seem to be much driving the story when they look for a resolution, and once important event happens in the film, most things are either solved or not solved without a backwards glance.
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For all the press about Kiefer Sutherland coming back, he doesn’t appear to be the same person he was in the original, and there’s no explanation for his walking stick or awful hair cut. If he is the same character, then why doesn’t he suss that they’re flatlining and call them on it? That would make a much more interesting film, if someone called them on their experiments with a prophetic tale of how things can wrong. But the film is a little too pedestrian for its own good.
As far as horror revamps go, it might be better to wait for Jigsaw to make his return, but it’s better than the so-so Alien: Covenant and the awful Rings. It proves the brilliance of Luna and Page, and makes a case for keeping the Clemons scenes in Justice League, but the film isn’t much good sadly. Enjoyable, certainly, but nothing that will linger in the memory longer than a trippy dream.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.