“Now’s the point where you say it’s all a joke.”
Flatliners essentially is a cinematic version of the childhood game “Ghosts in the Graveyard,” and it deserves to be taken just as seriously (which, I’m implying, is not at all). For those who haven’t participated in the sweat-inducing and panting pastime, it requires a few things: a group, a dark setting, and a person in hiding. This movie shifts the objective from a ghoulish game of hide and seek to an unearthing of stowed away secrets, following five med students haunted by the wrongs of their respective pasts. And it’s so incredibly boring, so dense and so monotonous, that you won’t care what the hell happens, just so long as it finally ends. Flatliners is as lazy as it is lifeless.
Let’s get the introductions over with. Courtney (Ellen Page) was the one responsible for the death of her little sister 9 years ago, and she’s the brains behind this dive into the exploration of the afterlife. She’s the operational commander and recruits her friends to stop her heart and resuscitate her. The sleazy Jamie (James Norton) sleeps around and parties and literally lives in a sailboat. Marlo (Nina Dobrev) also comes from money with her ritzy townhouse, but she’s plenty smart too. Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) is the most pressured of the bunch, her overbearing and controlling stage Mom refusing to let Sophia manage her future for herself. Then there’s Ray (Diego Luna), a presumably older student who’s attracted to Marlo, as well as the only character in the film with any level of cautious unease. Ray acts with heed whereas the rest of these brainiacs are reduced to a bunch of Dum Dum suckers.
If you’re going to make a film about characters who willingly and temporarily “kill” themselves, at least persuade us into hoping they’re brought back from the dead. Trick us into caring about their well-being even in the slightest. Then from there, create a fictional world with rules that audiences can understand and try to judge the story by accordingly. Pointless scenes entirely devoted to exposition and reasoning don’t even get the job done. The hallucinations have no restrictions; they can push you off a balcony, stab you in the hand, and asphyxiate you as you drive. But they can also cast doubt, deliver cheap jump scares, and frighten from afar. There’s a great addiction metaphor behind both versions of this story – that the ephemeral high of any drug comes with a greater physical toll – and yet neither film really follows through with the repercussions of an addled, obsessed, regret filled life.
Is Flatliners supposed to be a spiritual sequel? Or is it a carbon copy remake of the campy and crappy original? It doesn’t really matter either way, because neither description could give a satisfying justification as to why this movie was even made. What didn’t work in the 1990 original is done no favors by this update. There’s a deep irony to this film, in that its daft narrative warns us of what can happen when you reawaken the past, and yet that’s exactly what’s been done. At 1 hour and 50 minutes, Flatliners felt like the longest movie I’ve sat through this year, not because it actually was, but because it’s so conspicuously dumb.
“I don’t know what to think, other than you’re all stupid.”
Rating: 1 out of 5