Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Runtime: 110 minutes
A quasi-reboot and low-key sequel to the 1990 film of the same name, Flatliners follows a group of ambitious medical students as they conduct secret experiments to better understand the phenomenon behind near-death experiences. In these experiments, the students stop their own hearts for minutes at a time before having their peers resuscitate them so they can recount their experiences. It’s the exact same premise as the original film, one that promises to tackle implications concerning our notions of death, the afterlife, and the balance between ethics and scientific discovery.
But with life and death at its fingertips, Flatliners struggles to engage creatively with any of these issues. While the film’s depictions of near-death experiences are well composed and aesthetically pleasing, they’re used mainly as a jumping off point for a guilt-themed horror romp. No matter how much it seems like the narrative is going to move into a different phase that might grapple with any of its concepts in an interesting way, it never really gets past the most generic of horror tropes and formulaic narrative resolution.
The characters have a decent rapport with each other, but lack the defining traits that might have made them compelling individuals. Each character takes their mandatory turn in the limelight as they undergo their near-death experiences and subsequently wrestle with their dark and mysterious pasts (except for Diego Luna’s character, who is apparently perfect in every way). Through this, the characters kind of learn their lessons, but don’t really have to do anything out of the ordinary other than take rudimentary steps towards accepting their past.
Ellen Page stars, successfully depicting the kind of determined and eccentric person who could convince their peers to kill themselves for science. The other actors have less to play with. I had some success imagining that Diego Luna’s character was secretly Jesus, trying desperately to hide his identity from his fellow medical students. Otherwise, the only things his character brings to the table are his unquestionable morals and the kind of luscious hair you’d see in a shampoo commercial.
Kiefer Sutherland plays a bit part as well, which is a nice nod to his role in the original. You wouldn’t know it, though, since he never once mentions his experience with flatlining. Apparently the only scene that connected him to the original film was cut, which seems questionable considering the calibre of scenes that made it in.
Though the premise might suggest a film that engages with the core themes of ethics, death and the afterlife, Flatliners sweeps these issues to the side. If those were your selling points, this film doesn’t have much to offer. However, if you’re looking for a thrilling film of deception as shampoo-commercial Jesus lives a double life at medical school, then boy do I have the film for you.