dir. Neils Arden Oplev
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki
In recent years, Sony Pictures has been neck-and-neck with Warner Bros. to see which of the two can be more delusional and prone to expensive bad decisions. Literally, the only good movies Sony plopped into theaters this summer were the crime thriller Baby Driver and Spider-Man: Homecoming the last of which was really produced by the far more consistent Marvel Studios. On their own terms, they crammed Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series into a confused, clearly hacked up 90 minutes of mediocrity and splurted The Emoji Movie out of their colon a mere week from one another.
Like The Emoji Movie, the idea of a remake of Flatliners is something that inherently pops up a red flag. Who in 2017 was asking for a remake of Flatliners? Why is Kiefer Sutherland in this one too if he isn’t playing the same character from the original? Apparently he was supposed to at some point in this film’s production, but in the final product he’s someone else entirely, who only exists to stand around and prod exposition out of the core characters.
Last but most questionably, why is this a PG-13 when the original is an R?
I haven’t seen the original Flatliners yet, so I went into this remake judging it on its own terms as much as I could. Needless to say, I’ll watch it pretty soon to get something that I would assume is better out of this premise.
Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) is a medical student who tricks her friends into helping her with an illegal experiment to trigger a near-death experience. They stop her heart rate, or “flatline” her, and leave her dead for two minutes before reviving her. When she is revived, she equates it to a sexual experience that gives her a new lease on life, and several of her colleagues try it as well. It isn’t long before bad side effects, reminding them of traumatic experiences in their lives, begin to haunt them and drive them crazy.
In the first half hour or so I was legitimately interested in where the characters were going, even though the movie kept distracting me with editing decisions that felt focus-grouped to oblivion. When Courtney and Jamie show their newfound vitality right after their flatlinings, the movie appears to be building something more fresh and character-driven than I’d been expecting Sony to be capable of anymore. I have to assume that these are good qualities carried over from the original.
Courtney then succumbs to a nervous breakdown, and it’s at this point that the movie suddenly wants to be a ghost movie really badly. It starts reaching under the counter for spooky jump scares to throw at the audience every now and then without ever trying to build a sense of dread, and it goes through these motions with every single character who attempted to flatline earlier in the film.
Although it does try to regain a character-driven approach at the end, the scenes attempting that have the same choppy, bare minimum-effort feel The Dark Tower had, which gave me the feeling the film’s entire second half was the result of Sony trying to patch up yet another mess they made with reshoots.
All of the goodwill it tried to build with halfway decent character development gets thrown out the window as the movie suddenly loses all focus of what it wants to be, sputtering off into multiple different directions, and it never finds its footing again.
Probably the most insulting attempt it makes at spookiness is one scene that happens in Jamie’s boat house. He’s taking a shower when the water suddenly turns off, and starts to see visions of a girl he knocked up and left behind, similar to how Courtney saw visions of her dead sister. The shortwave radio in his boat freaks out and starts playing the glockenspiel tune from the “Swedish Rhapsody Iridial” numbers station, most notably featured on the 5-disc numbers station compilation The Conet Project. It’s literally the same audio at first, but then the sound people decided to slather a couple “spooky” effects on it.
Numbers stations (look up what they are if you’d like to enter a neat rabbit hole of radio weirdness) feel creepy mainly because of their mysterious, often untraceable origins. Here, it’s not used to add a new dimension to this film, although it would’ve been far more interesting had it shifted gears again to involve an evil doctor that uses shortwave radio or something. It’s in there to be a pathetically cheap and unsuccessful attempt to unnerve the audience.
It reminded me of a scene in another awful major-studio horror film from a few years back called The Apparition where they just added “scary” music to a garage door opening by itself. This scene is utterly hilarious in the context of a movie that had previously tried to make scary scenes out of rotting a corner of drywall and moving a dresser a couple inches to the left. With the cheap use of numbers station audio in this movie, though, it lets out a final pathetic gasp for air in a film that was building somewhere promising for a little bit.
Whatever this movie was supposed to be before Sony’s iron fist of mediocrity slammed down is probably more interesting than what we got, even if it still turned out to be a mess. Regardless, this is what we got and it’s probably all we’ll get out of it. Movies like this and The Dark Tower make me miss the days when workprints would leak on a regular basis, allowing the original visions of movies like Alien 3 and Halloween 6 to reach the public consciousness somehow.
Please let this property flatline now, Sony.