I’m pretty sure that, in a limbo competition, no matter how low the bar is set, it’s still considered cheating to dig your way under, but that doesn’t stop 2017’s “Flatliners” from boring straight down, aiming for rock bottom.
Driven by a family tragedy, ambitious medical student Courtney (Ellen Page) seeks to find out what happens when you die and ropes in four of her friends to help revive her after stopping her heart. When the experience seems to offer some surprising benefits, the others rush to try it for themselves but it’s not long before darker, more unpleasant side effects begin to manifest.
Much less stylized than its predecessor, this take on “Flatliners” sets itself in a more realistic world, if realistic to you is fourth-year medical students living in spacious apartments, driving new cars, studying and doing residency rounds to the wee small hours and yet always looking immaculate. It’s archly aware that you, the audience, know what the characters are going to set out to do so it doesn’t waste time showing us the characters coming up with, discussing, debating or rationalising the idea of deliberately ending their lives with the intention to resuscitate only minutes later. Nope, instead Courtney issues her friends Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) a cryptic invitation to meet her in a hospital subbasement at one in the morning only to explain her plans once they arrive.
Without much convincing, they agree to help but when the resuscitation proves far more difficult and complex than they anticipated, they’re forced to call on their other friends Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev) to help. When Diego Luna’s atrocious haircut fails to shock Courtney back to life, they have to take extreme measures and only just manage to bring her back from the dead. And yet, despite the desperate difficulty encountered in reviving Courtney, it only takes about a minute for one of the group to glibly decide they want to be next to kill themselves and come back again. I mean, YOLO, right?
There’s no point in this movie where the characters don’t make stupid decisions, driven by a confused and atrocious script which can’t make up its mind what it wants to be or wants to say about death and near-death experiences, apart from pushing a clear anti-abortion, confession is good for the soul agenda.
The remake does try to add a few new ideas to those the original played with, the way a reluctant child plays with a wilted piece of broccoli on its plate which it has to eat otherwise it won’t get any pudding, but then fails to do anything more with them. 2017’s “Flatliners” just piles more unwanted broccoli onto the plate as if that’s a solution to the toddler’s dining dilemma.
There’s potential aplenty in the idea that a near-death experience enhances your sense of being alive and ‘shocks’ your brain into working more efficiently, improving recall and perception, but beyond showing temporary suicide could be the party drug and study aid of choice, this joie de mourir doesn’t pay off in any other way. In a forced third act, the film tries to pivot into being an out and out horror movie, throwing a bunch of horror clichés at the screen in the hope they connect meaningfully to what’s gone before. Instead, it makes things more ridiculous as the hallucinations waste time and effort scuttling around in the background where the audience might be able to see them but the character experiencing the hallucination absolutely can’t. The absurdity is all capped off by one of the characters being absolutely outraged that recreationally killing yourself and then reviving might have a downside. Brilliant medical students indeed.
Given the feeble material they have to work with, it’s no surprise the cast show little appetite or enthusiasm and even the mild amusement provided by Kiefer Sutherland cameoing as Ted Danson cosplaying as Gregory House quickly wears off. This is a needless remake which magnifies the flaws of the original and then piles on the misery. It deserves to die quickly and let’s hope this time Sony put a Do Not Resuscitate notice on their file.