You would think by now that Hollywood executives would take the hint and stop trying to resurrect old properties in a slightly inferior manner. The original Flatliners, from 1990, was never regarded as a classic or beloved film that had a ready built-in audience the way that Ghostbusters did (look how that was received!). Yet there must have been something there to make the money men reckon it could have been a promising prospect. The chances are it would be good. Decent cast and a director with a good resume are an optimistic start. Then is was reported that the film would not be screened for critics prior to its release which, let’s face it, is never a sign of a studio having a great deal of faith in its movie.
A highly motivated and intense medical student Courtney (Ellen Page), has a fascination with the afterlife. Through talking to patients who have been brought back from the dead and her need to strive for greatness she has come up with a way to monitor the brain activity of a deceased person. In order to achieve this she needs to record information at the point of death. She recruits the help of four fellow students who reluctantly agree to stop Courtney’s heart for one minute. After the successful experiment and the rise in Courtney’s cognitive abilities, the others want to flatline. Soon the consequences of their actions literally come back to haunt them.
Although billed as a sequel, the new version of Flatliners feels very much like a remake of the original. There is no connective tissue between the two apart from the appearance of Kiefer Sutherland in both and they are as two differently named characters. Whether they are actually the same person is never addressed as his role is so minor that it could have been played by anyone, or completely omitted from the final film.
The film starts out reasonably well with the introduction of both the characters and the premise. The pacing and story give just enough to get a flavour of all of the principal cast. It is not until the more overt horror elements are introduced that the film starts to struggle. Instead of taking the initial solid building blocks and making it into something unique the film makers choose to go down the path of orthodox and frankly tiresome horror clichés. If did with a bit of thought they might have just got away with it. Unfortunately that is not the case.
The problem seems to be that the film loses its direction in the second half. Where the first half focused primarily on Courtney and her motivations, the more we see of the rest of the students, the less we are inclined to root for them. The consequences of their flatlining are supposed to be the scary and jumpy sequences. Some work better than others and in fact there are too many of them. Instead of a single sequence with each character, we are treated to at least two, sometimes three visits to their nightmares. It all becomes a little samey and as a result the audience stops rooting for them.
What the film needed to drag the viewer back was an exceptionally bright finish. Without going into detail, we get a really modest and thoroughly undeserved ending that tries to tie up all the loose ends. When we see how things are resolved with the characters in the end it feels rushed and the subject of too many people having a say in how the film is made.
Overall, a wasted opportunity for a film that showed some promise in its opening sequences.