The 400-Word Review: Flatliners
By Sean Collier
October 5, 2017
With shock and revulsion, one of the ill-fated quintet of medical students in Flatliners exclaims, “This isn’t science — it’s pseudoscience!”
Well, sure. But we’re in a movie of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-spiritual whatnot, so who could be surprised?
This Flatliners toes the line between sequel and remake, with a plot virtually identical to the 1990 original despite the return of Kiefer Sutherland, reprising his role (sort of) from the original film. (Don’t think about it too hard; it has no bearing on the plot.) After she causes the death of her younger sister in a car accident, Courtney (Ellen Page) develops an obsession with the afterlife. Determined to journey beyond the veil, she instructs her colleagues — Ray (Diego Luna), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) — to stop her heart, theoretically allowing her to peek behind the curtain, before resuscitating her.
In one form or another, it works. It also grants Courtney heightened memory, recall and perception. Soon, her colleagues want to give temporary death a go. It’s all in fun until nightmarish hellscapes and visions of past trauma follow them out of purgatory and into the real world.
The drama in this Flatliners should’ve pitted science against spirituality. Screenwriter Ben Ripley was sure to write one avowed skeptic, Ray, into the tale. It follows that the big question would be chemical; are there really forces reaching out to the scientists from the great beyond, or did the brain damage inherent in dying short-circuit them?
That’s not what Flatliners is about, however. It’s mostly about jump scares and hokum.
The promise of a strong cast and a tantalizing premise gives way to a series of horror-by-numbers sequences, replete with rotting corpses and stock-music string hits.
The performances are worth watching; Page is incapable of giving a bad turn, and Clemons continues to establish herself as a fine young performer. (Sutherland seems to have rewritten the script in his own mind, but he’s fine.) Before long, however, the cast is reasoning out some hooey about seeking forgiveness for past sins in order to escape the whatsit, ghouls are skulking around morgues and the audience is checking their watches.
There are enough scattered moments of quality here to keep Flatliners from fully falling off a cliff, but not enough to truly recommend it. It’s not really bad, but it’s not good. Come to think of it: it’s psuedo-good.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark