It is a strange cinematic world indeed when someone decides to remake a Joel Schumacher film. The man responsible for such onscreen mediocrity as D.C. Cab, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Batman and Robin is not really the kind of hack you revisit. Instead, he’s the type of director that you hope to forget, especially when faced with one of his daunting diversions.
In this case, some geniuses decided to go back and take another stab at Flatliners, that ersatz Brat Pack horror film which dealt with medical students playing God. As dread it was dumb, but at least it was somewhat original. The 2017 update adds nothing new, and does so in a manner that is so dull and lifeless that it might as well be one of the corpses these med students are practicing on.
The premise, in case you aren’t well versed in the original, has a group of young people who are eager to know what happens after we die. The way to do this? Use their training as future physicians to stop their hearts and then, after a few minutes, revive themselves. The goal is to use the experience to discover the truth about the afterlife. What ended up happening was a goofy ghost story where the participants were “haunted” by their regrets, and hallucinated the horrors they eventually experienced. Or something like that.
The new version follows a similar path, albeit one updated to the politically correct times on campus nowadays. Ellen Page is now the instigator of this experiment. She’s a “theorist,” whatever that means, and with the guidance of a former member of the original “flatliners” (cough, cough–Kiefer Sutherland–cough, cough), another group gets ready to play dead. They include Jamie (James Norton), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Rudy (Diego Luna).
So, what happens? Well, one by one, these lame-brained lab rats undergo the dying thing, and when they come back, each one brings their own insecurities, issues, and imaginations to reality. There is no suspense. There is no surprise. And when you think about it, there’s no real reason for this remake to exist. Unlike say The Fly, which allowed David Cronenberg to use his body horror tropes to explore a doomed operatic love affair, the 2017 Flatliners brings nothing new to the movie mix.
Aside from turning everything into a less effective PG-13, director Niels Arden Oplev proves that he can be just as much a journeyman as Schumacher ever was. The man responsible for the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo may have some minimal visual flair, but the narrative is numbingly dull. The script, by Ben Ripley, is a well meaning mess with little insight. In fact, it’s more a retread than a legitimate reimagining. It reminds one of the time when someone thought a shot-for-shot take on Psycho was a good idea.
Of course, had Ripley and Oplev done anything to make this Flatliners original, we’d probably jump on board. After all, when Marcus Nispel took on Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he made sure to reintroduce vicious brutality back into these more or less anemic franchises. But aside from name value and nostalgia, there’s no real reason for this movie to exist. The 1990 entry was, at the time, viewed as a last gasp for the young Hollywood. It was used to push the possibility of keep the proper demo driving to the Cineplex. Today, there can’t be much call for a group of unknowns delving into the realm of supernatural spirituality.
What happens after we die could be the fodder for some truly frightening stuff. Flatliners 1990 tried to live up to the promise of that premise. The 2017 version doesn’t even come close to delivering.