We live in an age of unnecessary remakes — but the new Flatliners movie, by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, has the distinction of being perhaps the most unnecessary of them all.
Some might be tempted to call this new Flatliners a sequel to the 1990 Joel Schumacher original since Kiefer Sutherland reprises his role as Nelson Wright, a character now elevated to dean of the medical school. But since that fact goes largely unaddressed, and this film’s premise is largely unchanged from the original, it’s not a distinction worth making.
Anyway, this Flatliners also focuses on a group of young medical students who decide to trigger near-death experiences in order to explore the afterlife. At first, it seems to work great. Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) is first up, and though the others are doubtful, once they see Courtney come out of it with a super-charged memory (able to recall everything that she’s ever learned, all at once), they can hardly wait to take their own crack at it. Once enough of them have had this taste of death, they start partying more than they ever have — but the comedown is quick and vicious. Soon, they each find themselves pursued by ghosts from their past, haunted by the faces of people they betrayed or let down. For Courtney, it’s the sister that drowned in a car crash, while for Marlo (Nina Dobrev), it’s the patient that died after she miscalculated his medication. Those are the more extreme ones; others, such as the girl that Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) embarrassed in high school, come off as laughably less intense.
It’s at this point that the movie really goes off the rails, and it never quite rights itself. Strange things start happening to these flatliners, but it’s not clear exactly what. With no warning, these visions start physically attacking them. At one point, Jamie literally gets stabbed in the hand, and it’s never established who or what did it. Are the flatliners somehow projecting their fears into real-world physical forms? Or is there a Pennywise-like creature capable of taking on the form of their worst fears?
The movie doesn’t say. In fact, it often feels like Flatliners is trapped between multiple genres without knowing exactly what kind of movie it wants to be, and the result is a confused mess.