This is actually a particularly special review because it’s for a movie that I’m seeing as a early release. No, not like a soft opening on Thursday at seven o’clock PM, but rather a screening not open to the public, possibly to garner some early buzz and get a general opinion of what the movie needs work on, that sort of thing. It’s the first I’m going to without chaperoning a friend. It’s also likely this review will be sitting in my shelf for awhile before I’m allowed to talk about it here, due to nondisclosure agreement I’m sure I’ll be signing, but a free movie is a free movie if you ask me.
This is actually news to me, this movie is a sequel. Yeah, for those like me who don’t know, this is a sequel to a 1990 film also called FLATLINERS, which starred Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon. As I understand it, it wasn’t a great film, but it had some merit to it. Of course, I’ve never heard of it, but depending how this turns out, I might see it online somewhere for shits and giggles.
This movie looks like it’s about this group of young doctors who have found a way to kill themselves for a few minutes, but come back from death as something of a next level thrill for them. As they chance longer sessions with death, weird shit starts happening and is possibly trying to kill them. Maybe it’s just the way that this movie is presenting it, but I’m half expecting the first half of the movie to be about these people having a joyous time with dying and coming back to life and it’ll only be in the second half where the movie takes it’s supposed horror toll. I could be wrong, but that’s what I’m getting out of it. I’m not expecting anything amazing, but I do like the cast.
Speaking of which. Starring, we have Ellen Page (MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI , TALLULAH , and JUNO ), James Norton (BELLE , RUSH , and video game DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION ), Nina Dobrev (XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE , LET’S BE COPS , and TV show THE VAMPIRE DIARIES [2009 – 2017]), Diego Luna (THE BAD BATCH , ROGUE ONE , and THE BOOK OF LIFE ), and Kiersey Clemons (THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK , NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING , DOPE , and upcoming DC films JUSTICE LEAGUE  and FLASHPOINT ). In support, we have Kiefer Sutherland (MONSTERS VS. ALIENS , PHONE BOOTH , and STAND BY ME ), Madison Brydges (making her feature film debut; congrats, miss), and Anna Arden (making her feature film debut; congrats, miss).
Now for the crew. Directing is Niels Arden Oplev, known for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) and the pilot episode of UNDER THE DOME (2013 – 2015). Penning the screenplay is Ben Ripley, known for SOURCE CODE (2011), SPECIES: THE AWAKENING (2007), SPECIES III (2004), and the upcoming SOURCE CODE 2, no release date announced. Composing the score is Nathan Barr, known for THE BOY NEXT DOOR (2015), THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), and TV show THE AMERICANS (2013 – ongoing). Finally, the cinematographer is Eric Kress, known for COLOSSAL (2017) and TAKEN 3 (2014).
Overall, I think I’m more excited that this is a private screening and that I’m seeing it a month ahead of schedule. The actual movie itself… eh, I guess I’m about to find out.
This is my honest opinion of: FLATLINERS (2017)
The story follows five young medical students named Courtney (Ellen Page), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Ray (Diego Luna), Jamie (James Norton), and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons). One day, Courtney recruits them into an off-the-books experiment that she’s been eager to try. The experiment: map and document what happens in the brain in the final minutes of a person’s death and bring them back, recording what the experience is like. Essentially: kill herself, bring her back, and share. The process is imperfect, but successful and Courtney develops a new love for life, and one by one, the others flatline too in order to know the experience. Unfortunately, strange things begin to happen. They start to see people that aren’t there and as time progresses, the unseen malevolence begins to threaten them more directly.
Yeah, this is about what I expected. Not good.
Well, let’s get the positives out of the way. First off, the acting is great. Page is amazing as per usual, Diego and Clemons bring likability to their characters, and Sutherland steals the show in every scene he’s in, it’s all pretty solid in that department. There’s energy to their performances, and you certainly want to like the characters. Despite the few scares this movie brings, some are pretty effective. There’s this scene with Jamie on his boat and he’s scrambling to find the source of the crying baby that he’s hearing. He opens a compartment in one of his seats, or whatever, and there’s a blanket there with some ghostly baby movements. Jamie picks up the blanket in that same shot, but nothing’s under it. It’s pretty well-done effect and leaves a bit of a chill. But then right after, without a sound effect or a “chun” from the score, a dark figure appears in the corner of the screen, staring at Jamie who is unaware of the figure behind him. The moment is refreshingly silent and leaves you with a skin-crawling feeling that I absolutely enjoyed. And there is a bit of well-done tension in the film too, specifically within the moments when they’re trying to resuscitate the flatliner. It’s here where the acting really shines and everyone’s scrambling to figure out what to do, what the proper course of action to take is, and because they’re only students, they’re constantly correcting each other while under serious pressure and time strain. It’s nothing new, of course, but when it’s done right, a hat tilt is necessary.
But the positives end there and I have no idea where to begin with the problems I have with this movie.
First of all, I’m not clear on what genre of horror this is. Is it psychological? Supernatural? Even the movie doesn’t seem to care what it is. If you saw this movie, a majority of it presents itself like a psychological horror. This is fine. Psychological horror films, when done right, can leave a huge impact on movie-goers. But here’s the problem, there’s a couple moments in the film that indicate that it’s a supernatural horror because we’re shown glimpses of a dark figure that stalks the main characters. Already, that ruins the psychological aspects. So, fine, it’s a supernatural horror. This doesn’t make much sense either because the dark entity makes no sense.
In the best monster flicks, even the monsters have some kind of motivation, a purpose to their being there. In a sense, they’re another character to the story, just with malicious actions. Jason Voorhees seeks vengeance for the cruelty wrought upon him when he was a child. Freddy Kruegar wants revenge on the kids whose parents killed him. Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray wants to implant his soul in a child so he doesn’t stay trapped in a doll’s body. The motivations are there. So what’s the story with this entity?
If “you can’t cheat death” then is this just a Final Destination type thing? If so, I better find originality in the trashcan, and what’s taking it so long to kill these people? It has ample opportunity to kill both Jamie and Marlo, so why doesn’t it?
By the end of the film, we learn that in order to beat this malevolent force, the flatliners have to face the source of their guilt that kills them. Jamie has to apologize to the woman that he abandoned after getting her pregnant and not being by her side at the abortion clinic, Marlo has to accept the ruination of her medical career after being directly responsible for killing a man because of a horrible mistake she made and then falsifying the autopsy report to save her ass, and Sophia needs to apologize to the girl whose phone she hacked and spread around her nude pictures to the class so she could get expelled and she be at the top of her class, quite possibly doing irreparable damage to her future. Okay, there’s potential there. Here’s a list of several problems as to why this doesn’t work. For one thing, they learn how to beat this force because of a deus ex machina: Marlo is about to be consumed by the darkness before the deceased Courtney appears and tells her how to beat it. Okay, we’ve never been privy to the notion that when you die, you can interact with other dead people. But more than that, there has never been any indication to these characters that this is the solution to their problems. Because the movie knows this, a resolution had to be shoehorned in, so this is contrived and loaded with bullshit.
If the dark force is trying to warn them, “Fess up to your crimes, or I’ll kill you,” then, A, why doesn’t it just say that? And B, why is Courtney singled out as the character that must die? I definitely didn’t understand this. The whole point behind these… “hauntings,” or “visions,” whatever they are is to hint at them to face their guilt. Courtney gets a little screwed over and not in a sensible way. How can she apologize for her actions to her kid sister if she’s dead? If everyone else has a chance to set things right, how was she able to do so? And what made Courtney the one that had to die? If anyone deserved to die, it’d be Marlo. She’s the one who is directly responsible for killing a man when she had proper medical training, but screwed up because she was too tired AND THEN LIED about the results in the paperwork, essentially lying to the man’s possible family and friends just to save her career, making her the least likable character in the film. Even if she decided to go to her superiors and confess, the movie basically says that she doesn’t go to jail, but rather just implies that she can’t be a doctor anymore, which is a load of crap compared to everyone else who’s just done shitty things, but are clearly not shitty people, unlike Marlo who is. Courtney looked at her phone while driving. Careless and stupid, absolutely, but she’s not an asshole for her actions.
Speaking of motivations, the characters’ motivations are absolutely boggled too. When we’re introduced to Courtney’s experiment, she claims it’s all in the name of science. While we later learn that she’s trying to make contact with her dead sister… I assume… but when she comes back from the dead, she suddenly starts partying up, getting drunk, dancing, all that shit. Glad to see “making contact with my dead sister for closure” is so high in her list of priorities. What do you think? In the top ten somewhere? Top twenty? They only ever look at the science stuff once. After that, the whole thing is just about the thrill of dying and living life to the fullest before the dangerous shit starts up. Where’s the pursuit of science?! And this is where the movie could have grown a serious brain. Like, what does proof of the afterlife mean for science, for religion, the dangers of sharing this information with the world, this could have been a highly intellectual film, but no, it becomes a borderline college frat party movie.
Even worse, these are probably the dumbest scientists that I’ve seen in a movie in a long time (I know, they’re doctors, but when they conduct experiments that don’t really apply to the field of medical pursuit, they’re scientists, not doctors.). Why? Even a sixth grader would know that any scientist with their tits and balls records everything when conducting experiments. The successes and the failures. The failures are just as important to the pursuit of knowledge as they give you clues to where you went wrong, or what needs to be explored further, or to come to the realization that it’s a dead end and needs to be scrapped. I don’t know, but when you’re conducting experiments on documenting the afterlife, if you start seeing creepy shit and it starts screwing with you, you have to tell your fellow scientists! Because, you know, if they want to try it, the risks need to be made known to them! But no, that’s not what either Courtney or Jaime do for Marlo and Sophia. They just let the supernatural shit happen to them and not tell a single person until everyone’s in deep and their lives are threatened. Great job, you dumb-shits!
Overall, this is a pretty bad flick. It had some serious potential to be much smarter and poignant, but instead it submits to the norm of stupid characters making stupid decisions, giving the audience little to invest in. The acting elevates it from most of the cast, some of the visuals worked in creeping me out, and it was a gripping idea. But the execution is beyond flawed. Unfocused, loaded with tropes, and terrible writing, it’s a mess of a film. I don’t recommend this to anyone, even horror fans. I can’t imagine this legitimately scaring anyone. I don’t even recommend it as a rental. If it comes out on Netflix and there’s nothing else to watch… I don’t know, there’s still better stuff to invest in.
My honest rating for FLATLINERS (2017): a weak 3/5