“Flatliners” Falls Flat On It’s Face

What happens when we die? The question so many try to answer through various ideologies, faiths, and even fantasy, but the question that, in my opinion, we’ll never definitively know the answer to. It’s a complete mystery to the living, because the only way to know is to die, and then you’re dead, and the living remain clueless.

UNLESS

You could experience death, but come back to life and share with the living what you experienced? Well combine some science and fantasy, and that’s the basic concept of the newly remade Flatliners. Until it’s not, but WE’LL GET TO THAT.

Not having seen the first Flatliners released in 1990, and only seeing a trailer or two for the new one, I went into that theater with probably too high of expectations – the concept is really intriguing and the cast is just a solid stack of talent, so can you blame me? We have Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, and even a guest appearance from Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in the 1990 version. (Real quick plug for an awesome BBC show you can stream on Netflix: watch Happy Valley, James Norton does a GREAT job at making you hate him).

So we have the question of what happens after you die. Aaaaand we have five medical students who are willing to risk it all to make “scientific strides.” They essentially kill themselves for a few minutes in order to experience death, and then rely on the talents and knowledge of the other students to resuscitate them. They all experience something a bit different, but pretty soon the euphoria drains and things take a dark turn. Individually, they are forced to battle what this experience brought back with them; together, they have to figure out what the heck is going on.

I was pretty engaged throughout the whole first act and a little bit past, but then it became apparent how clunky the writing was, and it just straight up took a wrong turn somewhere around the midpoint of the film. It introduced some threads that were never fully weaved into the story, and weaved some threads too loosely or just straight up incorrectly. A few even got a bit snagged or knotted along the way. And that folks, describes my most recent knitting project. Just kidding, I don’t knit! So yes, the plot was not as cool as it could have been.

First huge plot hole: if you’re dead, it’s like being completely unconscious except dead, so how in the world would you have any memory of what you experienced. It’s not like you come round from being knocked out cold and remember anything but… blackness? Or at the very best, a dream-like experience. Unless that’s not just a dream… *gasp!! Okay, I need to stop. So they died, had an after death experience, and somehow remembered it. If it’s so unknown what happens after death… how do they just know what they experienced? It wouldn’t be a mystery of people just knew what happened. I suppose the point is they bring themselves back to life… but that happens probably more frequently than we think it does. I even have a friend who was dead for a minute and a half during a medical procedure.

Minor spoiler ahead:

Also… they never really give a good explanation of WHY they’re being haunted by their “sins.” You can literally do whatever you want in a film, as long as you establish some logic, and follow that logic. They didn’t establish any logic beyond what we have in reality, and didn’t connect the dots between dying, remembering what you experienced in death, and being haunted by your sins. And it wasn’t enough of a horror film for them to use “just needing a reason to get some spooks and gore up in here” as a crutch. Despite being a bit tonally confusing, I really quite enjoyed appreciate the style that is consistent with director Niels Arden Oplev in some of his other films, such as the 2009 film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The conclusion of this movie, however, was an absolute eye roll. I like happy endings, don’t get me wrong, but this one was just like “oh come on, you could NOT have made the moral lesson more obvious if you had tried!” In my opinion, this was kind of just a waste of a good film concept on a moral lesson with no depth that we’re all sick of hearing. I wanted to investigate to see if the first Flatliners made in 1990 was the same, and, give or take a few details, this review could have been written very fittingly for either of them. Just replace this more diverse cast with Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt. Stellar cast, intriguing concept, predictable plot, maybe not the best use of my time..?

The performances were strong and the production design looked really nice, but this wouldn’t be my first recommendation to anyone who’s looking to see a good movie. I’ll give it a 5 out of 10. Definitely would be even lower if I didn’t love Ellen Page so gosh dang much.

Eliza McGowan-Stinski

I have been a barista for three years but don't drink coffee, probably have the world record for most texting/autocorrect mistakes ever made, and I don't talk to myself, I sing to myself. Sarcasm is my native language (being dramatic my second). I'm very passionate about writing and directing films, adventuring and exploring the world, leadership stuff, advocating for all things social progress-y, and just always striving to be a better human.

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