Running time 1hr 50min
FLATLINERS, the Kiefer Sutherland-fronted vehicle of 1990, botched a fascinating premise in a way psycho-horror films of its generation so often tended to; despite some positive reassessment of late, it’s a frustratingly dated movie, dogged by hammy acting and an even hammier internal logic. Although by far the least warranted remake/sequel in years, this new version could have improved on the original to no end; even more intriguingly, Niels Arden Oplev, of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was attached, promising a rather more grown-up, cerebral take on the subject matter. In fact, for a while, it looks set to surpass its stunted predecessor.
While the action has the same televisual feel about it, the film initially takes its time, striving, like the best of contemporary horror cinema, to ground itself in human drama. Sure, Oplev hasn’t cottoned on to the artsy sensibilities we’ve recently come to expect of the genre, but Flatliners takes its time with its characters, a med school clique who’ve developed superhuman
abilities with the aid of ‘flatlining’ – that is, briefly killing (and resuscitating) themselves.
There’s a broad cross-section of personalities at play (even if the movie clearly has a foot in the door of Ivy League archetypes), from Ellen Page’s troubled, devoted mastermind to Kiersey Clemons’ overachiever and James Norton’s trust fund playboy.
Naturally, it all goes downhill the moment the horror kicks in. The ‘afterlife’ is realised as a dull, floaty dream-space where the cast encounter their deepest fears and desires, part-Shutter Island, part-Assassin’s Creed. This all went mostly unexplained in the original (due, perhaps, to an audience more willing to suspend its collective disbelief?), but the remake, far from revelling in the mystery, settles into something between over-clarification and muddled ambiguity. The apparitions the characters
subsequently run into in the real world (spoiler alert) are said to be hallucinatory (a drug metaphor is slyly touched upon), only for one ghoulie to then go and stab Norton’s jock in the hand. Some flatliners see dead people, others misdemeanours done against the living; in that most exquisitely ’90s way, it shuns rationalisation while leaving far too little to the imagination. Most disappointingly, the scares are of the most contrived, boom-boom-jump variety.
While the film inherits the relative inoffensiveness of its forerunner, no doubt setting it up as a minor hit at preteen sleepovers, it also borrows extensively from, of all things, the rash of Asian remakes (The Eye, The Grudge, One Missed Call) that temporarily discredited the horror genre in the 2000s. There’s sinister ghost-kids, creepy radios that switch themselves on at will and more than one scene featuring sheets being pulled back ever … so … slowly.
The final act veers into a bumptious, lazy moralism that leaves something of a sour taste in the mouth, extinguishing any lingering hopes that this might have amounted to the ‘better’ Flatliners. None were expecting miracles, but this overlong, obsolete tripe squanders all its potential.