I had been meaning to watch the original Flatliners (1990) this week to get a sense of what might be different in a 2017 version.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t see the first one as this contemporary version is for the most part an entertaining sci-fi thriller with sexy horror riffs. It is also a film that for seemingly no apparent reason has been remade. Or rebooted. Or whatever.
Five medical school mates – “Girl-Next-Door” Courtney (Ellen Page – Juno), “Hot-Guy” Jamie (James Norton – Black Mirror), “Hot Chick” Marlo (Nina Dobrev – Vampire Diaries), “Nerd Chick” Sophia (Kiersey Clemons – Transparent) and “Nerd Guy” Ray (Diego Luna – Star Wars Rogue One) embark on a stealthy series of experiments to test the limits of what the human mind and body experiences in the space between life and death.
They do this via a seemingly simple method of stopping one anothers hearts for a period of minutes before being jolted back to life. The period in between they are “flatlining”, and they use an MRI to record brain activity to see if they can determine what is going on. (The first time they do this, Courtney reminds the others – “this is an MRI so no keys or metal objects”, but on the MRI bed is her laptop, which last time I checked…is metallic? In fact so obvious is the macbook sitting there that I’m sure somebody is going to reference – hey, we’d better move that computer!)
In the immediate aftermath of each episode of flatlining they experience a euphoric high, and increased intelligence. But at what cost….!!!!?? /-)
The films opens with two young women travelling in a car. It’s pretty obvious they are about to have a car accident by sheer virtue of the fact that this is a generic scene you’ve grown accustomed to seeing in plenty of films over the years.
Right on cue, Courtney, who is driving, glances at her (flip!) phone for a split second too long and she has to swerve off a bridge to avoid rear-ending a vehicle. There is a montage of footage of cemeteries and bright lights and voices saying things like “I can see my body”, so while the audience might be unsure if she is alive or dead, the film sets up pretty clearly that the subject matter is “near death experiences”. It also sets up that resorting to a montage in the opening minute of a film might not bode well.
We jump forward in time to 9 years later and Courtney is wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope and attending to a patient in a hospital bed. The patient looks pretty beat up and Courtney explains “You’ve had a seizure. Your heart stopped for several minutes before the EMTs were able to revive you. Do you remember anything about that experience?”
Just as the woman is answering, a nurse pokes her head in the door and says “OK, make way for the real doctor, and go back to study”, revealing that Courtney is not a full doctor…yet.
Before Courtney leaves the room, the woman whispers to her “You’ve lost someone haven’t you…?”
Before too long, we meet Kiefer Sutherland, who of course was in the 1990 version, but here he is channeling that guy off TV that plays the doctor called House and is walking with a stick. He is pretty unimpressed with the students’ knowledge. Except for Ray. He is smart that guy. He was in Rogue One after all!
Kiefer aka Dr Barry Wolfson (look it up!) says he is only interested in students who want to “Move the dial on Human Knowledge”, and Courtney thinks this might just be the permission she has been waiting for to start doing some unorthodox experiments that push the boundaries of what is ethical and what is something you might expect in a “lite” horror film.
Courtney invites a select group of the other students to join her “at midnight, in the basement, sub level c”, she is quite specific about this, as if she has been playing Cluedo, and it turns out that there is a “fully functioning hospital” that “never gets used”. Hmmmmmm. The main criteria for joining in appears to be that you must be “kind of attractive and photogenic”.
Courtney is keen to “document what happens after we die” and tells the gang to “stop her heart for 1 minute”, before reviving her.
To be fair they get into this risky business of Flatlining pretty quick smart, and it is an interesting concept. Courtney goes under and floats out of her body, up through the many hospital floors above her, through other people’s organs mid surgery, up above the hospital roof and above the city.
This experience is so enlightening that in the hours after her out-of-body experience she bakes 6 loaves of bread and runs 12 miles.
It was at this point that I thought to myself “Hey! This is a bit like that movie Limitless starring Bradley Cooper”. It felt even more familiar than that 2011 gem alone, so I googled “movies like Limitless” and of course there are flicks like Lucy and Transcendence that explore increased mental agility. Trust me, this one is better than Transcendence.
Courtney is able to answer Dr Wolfson’s tricky questions with ease and play the piano like a virtuoso. “It’s like she’s been rewired!” quips one of her chums.
But, being a genius has a dark side. (Trust me!)
When Courtney is at home by herself, the shower curtain starts acting all weird. Must be time for… ACT 2.
The hot guy Jamie decides he is going to be the next Flatliner, and in his “trip” he enjoys a motorbike ride through a deserted city with a good looking blonde lady on the back of the bike. Just before he is brought back to life however, the nice blonde lady turns to dust and Jamie looks worried.
Never fear, because the gang are celebrating and they tear up Courtney’s apartment, even ripping down a wall, they are partying hard dude!
“This is crazy! It’s like they are on the same wavelength!” says a character of Courtney and Jamie when they start to make out with each other. “We should bottle flatlining an sell it as a party drug” says another.
From here on in the film takes a darker turn into horror territory and for me it delivered bigger jumps than IT.
There’s something self-reverential about the film too, like it doesn’t take itself too seriously despite earnest performances all round. The casting is great because the characters are partly unlikeable douchebags, so you don’t mind that weird shit is happening to them. But because they are for the most part attractive, you hope nothing too bad happens to them.
Naturally it transpires that they are all harbouring secrets, except for Ray, coz he’s alright that guy and he’s also the only one not to Flatline.
I was expecting this film to be pretty piss poor TBH but I actually found it to be a reasonable piece of commercial cinema. It definitely held my attention for the duration, but I haven’t given it too much thought since seeing it, except for when I walked my dog later that night through the abandoned asylum that doubles as our dog park (look it up!) Then I started to get a couple of heebie jeebies and was grateful for the fact that if you jump out at me from the shadows my dog will fuck you up . I hope.
What is weird is that I can’t find any cast pictures to jazz up this post. It’s like they made the film and were embarrassed by it, and hope that nobody really notices it is there, except for people looking at a poster of five attractive people who might “dare to cross the line” – whatever that means.
Oh! I get it!
All in all I found Flatliners a not-unpleasant experience. Like going to the dentist and he just gives you a clean. There are some interesting ideas, some good acting, some scary jumps, some sexy bits, some funny bits and some silly bits.
Scarier than IT, and less mental than Mother! it would make the perfect film to see with a bunch of young mates out for a laugh and a scare. Anthony O’Connor over at Filmink says – Flatliners “seems content to sit in the same beige-coloured bargain bin as Point Break (2015), Robocop (2014) and Carrie (2013), but I thought it was a step up from those remakes.
3 Stars. “Sexy, Spooky, Sci-Fi Thriller”.