This Flatliners remake is truly mystifying. What called for a new version of the 1990 Julia Roberts/Kiefer Sutherland/Kevin Bacon thriller now? (Or ever, for that matter?) If you have wondered whether the remake itself might answer this question, well: It does not.
The new Flatliners updates the very-early-’90s original film with a more-diverse cast and a dollop of awareness about privilege — both good things, but that’s about as far as the good things go.
The film follows a gaggle of medical students who temporarily kill themselves in order to experience a taste of what happens after death. Courtney (Ellen Page, too deft for this) starts the whole thing with a speech about how she wants to see what happens in the brain, but it’s all a cover for her guilt: Courtney texted while driving, and her little sister died (a scene that opens the movie and then is repeated, with more screaming, in case you were somehow unclear about what happened).
Four of Courtney’s sort-of friends, each blessed with a single personality trait, join her. Only one, Ray (Diego Luna, too sly for this), opts not to “flatline,” which is wise, since weird shit starts happening to the others. Hallucinations? Hauntings? Weird synapse misfires?
Despite one oddly endearing scene where the gang hovers around a screen, watching lightning flash in dead-Courtney’s brain scan, no one ever bothers to find out.
And so the haunting things continue through a bargain-basement stock of horror tropes that only work on me because I am an absolute wimp about this stuff. (Every time a scare is about to happen, the score goes quiet first, providing even me an ample moment to prepare.) An angry little girl, a ghostly ex, words written in blood across walls, looming dead guys, misbehaving bathtubs — there’s not a spooky image in this film that you haven’t seen before.
Director Niels Arden Oplev was responsible for the effective Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the fantastic Mr. Robot pilot), so frankly, I expected better from him. The cast is sturdy, if mostly unremarkable, and to be fair, Ben Ripley’s script does improve on the original film’s gender issues. (Shall we put Page in all of Sutherland’s old roles? How about she stars in a gender-flipped Lost Boys remake? I would watch that.)
For a brief moment in the first act, Flatliners seems like it might contain a few charms. It tosses a few potentially interesting ideas into the air — the effects of flatlining, the enthusiasm for something newly discovered — but they come down into a puddle of sludge.
The longer the movie goes on, the further it crumples in on itself, until an end that’s anti-climactic and astonishingly trite. Imagine someone tone-deaf singing “Let It Go,” and you’ve pretty much got Flatliners’ finale. (Regal Valley River, Cinemark 17)