Back in the 90s the original “Flatliners” became somewhat of a cult classic, with a unique concept and, at the time, rising superstars bringing a surprisingly well directed Joel Schumacher project to life. Now, 27-years later, we get a sequel of sorts to the original film that tries to recapture the unique qualities of its predecessor for a new generation. So does this sequel/reboot film hold up? Well it’s not nearly as bad as many critics have made it out to be, but still “Flatliners” feels like a poor attempt to revive a standalone project into a franchise with no real drive to provide anything new for audiences to appreciate.
“Flatliners” stars Ellen Page a Dr. Courtney Holmes, a student as a prestigious medical school who was involved in a deadly crash when she was younger that took the life of her little sister. Holmes, stricken with grief years later, searches for answers to what lies on the other side and convinces fellow students Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), James (James Norton), and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to help her out. The students begin to experiment with flatlining, stopping each other’s hearts for minutes at a time to experience “the other side” and record the brain’s activities during and after death. However the experiments prove to have deadly side effects as each of the students begin to experience realistic hallucinations linked to sins of their past and must find a way to reverse the side effects before it’s too late.
To its credit “Flatliners” gives us everything we were looking for from the story. We see a group of reckless young adults who experiment with literal death defying experiments only to see the side effects come back to haunt them. There’s mystery, a few decent scares, and the acting isn’t as bad as it could have been. So basically…we got the same film we got in 1990 just with a modern edge and that, right there, is the biggest elephant in the room when talking about this film. “Flatliners” is the kind of reboot/remake that annoys the hell out of pretty much everyone looking at it with any kind of critical eye. It’s essentially the same movie as its predecessor with no real imagination adding to the premise making us question “was this really necessary?”
Now as I said the acting’s not horrible. It’s nothing to write home about, but Ellen Page and cast do add some life into the film with some genuine emotional moments and expressions of ego and regret that help each character stand out on their own. I could go through each performance separately but, to be honest, I’ve already said everything there is to say about the performances. They’re not bland or boring, but they’re not remarkable. Each actor does a great job understanding who they are playing and adding some personality to the students we see on screen, but at the end of the day these characters leave little impact. They are, for the most part, rather generic representations of typical character tropes for any film. I should credit the filmmakers and actors however for tying each character’s personality to their individual sins that come to haunt them. It’s a subtle attention to detail that was also a great aspect of the original movie and plays into why these characters each stand out in a crowded cast.
To be honest I didn’t think “Flatliners” was truly terrible as many reviews have stated, but it did leave a lot to be desired in terms of creativity and pace. We’ve seen this story before and it kinds of feels like the filmmakers knew that and were counting on us already having and understanding and appreciation for what plays out on screen. This plays even more into the film’s lack of creativity and considering the unique premise this movie and its predecessor embraced you’d think there were a least a few new directions this new version of the story could explore. It’s not like the original “Flatliners” had a lot of copycats. Instead this new film simply borrows from its predecessor sticking to a formula that worked the first time but comes off as stale and dry this second time around. While we get what we came to see we don’t get anything, other than a single admittedly unexpected death, that sets this new movie apart from the first and thus, ironically, makes this sequel/reboot more of a tribute to the original and a copycat in itself than its own story worth telling. It does just enough to be entertaining but not enough to be memorable or take any real advantage of its premise which, when you think about it, opens up worlds of possibilities in terms of what we should expect from the afterlife.
“Flatliners” does try to focus on a few deeper concepts, but fails to go all in and thus leaves any redeemable morals hidden beneath of layer of clichés and unimaginative storytelling. Flatlining is seen as almost a drug or addiction to the students, making subtle reference to drug use in general and the high and euphoria these drugs bring to their users. The main theme however is regret and the impact of one’s conscience. It really is interesting to see these characters as flawed individuals struggling to cope with minor things they did in their past that still haunt them, but their regrets are turned into catalysts instead of true lessons learned. The only reason they seek forgiveness or decide to change is because their lives are on the line and this was my biggest issue with the original film as well. There’s a lack of sincerity behind their acts of redemption and while eventually we learn that they have to forgive themselves more than seek forgiveness from others this theme fails to resonate well in the story because it feels forced and out of place. It’s an important lesson to learn but, honestly, I found myself thinking these people didn’t deserve to learn such a powerful lesson and live to tell the tale. It was hard for me to leave the theater believing these people deserved a second chance and you can tell by the tone that this movie sought a more uplifting impact than it truly provides.
Overall “Flatliners” was nothing more than an average horror thriller at best, offering just enough to pander to the lowest common denominator of fans that were actually looking forward to a modernized take on the “Flatliners” story. While it offers a few scares, some interesting characters, and embraces the spirit of the first film quite well in the end all it really becomes is a modern take on the same story we’ve already seen with nothing new, memorable, or interesting to make it stand on its own. It wasn’t the hardest film to get into or enjoy, but it was ultimately forgettable and an unneeded reboot that, ironically, just couldn’t revive a dead franchise the way many hoped it would.