IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 111 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Medical students Courtney, Ray, Marlo, Jamie and Sophia are feeling the heat of competition at Trinity Emmanuel Hospital where their instructor Dr. Barry challenges them to do their best. Still haunted by the death of her sister in a car accident, Courtney ropes the others – well, except for sensible Ray – into giving her heart-stopping drugs that will kill her for three minutes and then heart paddles to revive her so she can report back what she sees. Her colleagues begin to undergo the same treatment, but initial feelings of positivity and seemingly increased senses change into hallucinations which may link to sins they committed in the past….
Think about it. People begin to explore the realm of near death experiences by having their hearts briefly stopped. What a great premise for a film, and a premise which neither version of Flatliners has done justice to. I found the original film a frustrating watch when I first saw it video, yet discovered it to be a much better film when I saw it again [for only the second time] yesterday. Whether that was due to my tastes changing, me expecting the worst as my memories of it weren’t good, or the possible fact that in general films aren’t as good as they used to be, I don’t know, but there was certainly much to appreciate this time round, be it the fascinating production design or the pointed look at guilt. It certainly showed the much-maligned Joel Schumacher at his stylistic peak as a director.
I doubt that I’ll feel the same way about this remake when I choose to see it again, though it’s not really as bad as you may have been led to believe. In fact, if you haven’t seen the 1990 film at all then you may quite enjoy it. This isn’t utter garbage like the Ghostbusters remake that we’re talking about here. Yet there’s still an air of pointlessness about the whole exercise. Basically following the template of the original but changing the characters and their past misdenemours was no doubt considered to be the best option because it mixes cosy familiarity with a few minor surprises, but, with one notable exception which I’ll come to in a bit, this version makes no attempt to correct the flaws of the original. Likewise it was obviously thought best not to replicate Schumacher’s directorial fireworks, but they’re not replaced by much at all. And turning the doctors of the original into students is only one of several script tweaks which are for the worst. One can almost buy a group of experienced doctors setting to do all this because they would probably be far more capable of bringing people back to life than bunch of naive students who barely seem to know what they’re doing. And yet the result, taken on its own, is a reasonable horror effort as long as you don’t expect too much from it. Far worse films of a similar nature have come out this year.
Having audio clips from people telling of their near-death experiences play over ambient music and the titles immediately gets things off to a poor start because it has none of the poignancy of seeing the people’s faces while they describe what they experienced in the original. Then we meet our five [rather than four] protagonists. Courtney is insecure and the one who’s set up this experiment. Jamie is rich, lives on a boat and sleeps with lots of his students. Sophia is very stressed and controlled by her mother. Marlo flirts and is a competetive perfectionist. And the serious, responsible Ray just thinks the others are idiots for getting involved in this crazy scheme. I’ll get this out the way and say right now that, yes, Kiefer Sutherland plays their teacher, though he only has a few scenes. He’s not playing the character he played in the first film despite what many [including me] thought, so his presence is merely the usual cynical remake thing of including a star that was in the original to try to placate fans annoyed that they’ve remade it in the first place. It’s Courney who goes first and we have the familiar shots of the camera moving rapidly over things, plus disappoitingly the only try at some proper visualising of an after-life though it’s the usual lights and whispy ghost-like things floating around. She comes back seemingly okay, so the others now want to do it too, though being modern students in a movie they seem to spend just as much time getting trolleyed. They experience strange flashbacks while ‘dead’, and soon after discover that they now have enhanced senses and intelligence which is a fun addition though lazilly thrown aside and forgotten about after a while. Two of them even crave sex and throw themselves at other members of the group.
However, as any drug user should tell you, trips can have their downside, and soon Courtney’s haunted by visions of her dead sister, Jamie by the girl he got pregant and left at an abortion clinic, Sophia by the girl whose nude pictures she distributed around high school, and Marlo by the patient whose death she caused after misdiagnosing – um – a jellyfish bite. Of course we can no longer have suggestions of racism from a character we like in today’s ridiculously touchy feely climate. Taken on its own though all this can’t help but be a bit involving, what with its heavy subjects like guilt and forgiveness of both others and yourself. And Ben Ripley’s screenplay does do one thing around half way through which earned my respect a bit. It kills off one of the main characters, which upps the stakes and for a while increases the sense of danger. You rarely felt that the characters in the original could die at all. For a while it seems to gets a bit Final Destination, which is not automatically a bad thing though couldn’t help but get me worried considering I’m still trying to wipe the memory of that inept piece of rubbish called Wish Upon from my mind, while much of the screen time is taken up with build-ups to jump scares with a loud musical note as is customary in most horror films at the moment. The timing is often poor here though and I missed the eeriness of some of the 1990 film’s visions which didn’t need to keep going for sudden cheap thrills of this nature.
After a while you know that they’re not going to kill anybody else off and will wrap things up in as boringly tidy a way as possible. There’s some typically shoddy looking CG ghosts yet the film seems to hold back on the special effects during moments when the supposed ‘advancement’ in technology would lead one to expect some really cool looking stuff. Overall there’s little attempt at being visually interesting despite the subject matter. A few scenes from the original are virtually replicated but usually less effectively – the big apology scene [readers familiar with the original will know what I’m referring to] which was so well judged before isn’t badly repeated here but is still not nearly as good. There’s even some familiar lines. The performers are all quite good despite characterisations being very thin and do have a kind of chemistry when they’re together, while director Niels Arden Oplev [The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo] keeps a reasonable grip on things though overall doesn’t seem to have been really the right choice for the material.
In a way Flatliners is the kind of film it’s hard too feel strongly about unless you absolutely love the original. It doesn’t totally disgrace its predecessor but rarely adds to it either. It’s probably slightly better than the average level of the remake these days [It seems to be almost an anomaly] and if this will be your first experience of a film called Flatliners then I don’t think you’ll regret going to see it, but I reckon it’ll be largely forgotten in a few years unlike Schumacher’s film which did strike a chord with many and will probably continue to be much liked [if not by critics]. The lack of effort made and the lack of interest shown by the paying public can’t help but lead one to ask why they bothered in the first place. I just don’t get the state of Hollywood at the moment. Yes, It was a huge hit, but for every successful remake there seem to be several which tank at the box office. You’d think that this would make alot of the lazy, unimaginative studios, producers and directors who seem to want to remake everything in sight think twice about what they’re doing wouldn’t you?