“So, we make Flatliners again, right? Only, instead of brick and neon, this time we go for chrome and LEDs. Oh, and these kids f**k!” would be the imaginary Orange Wednesdays movie pitch for this rather lazy and uninspired retread of the cult classic Joel Schumacher thriller. A sort-of-rebootquel (Kiefer Sutherland’s back in cameo-form, though unacknowledged), Flatliners 2K17 largely follows the template of its 1990 namesake, though, this around, dispenses with the gothic-inspired horror beats in favour of something far more generic and really rather cheap-looking.
For those new to the concept, Flatliners (in both incarnations) follows a group of eager medical students seeking to scientifically uncover what lies beyond death, researching the idea by stopping their own hearts long enough to peak behind the existential curtain before the rest of the group revive them. Ellen Page is the leader of the group this time around, and – as before – the group’s glimpses of the afterlife bring with them a malevolent presence in the real world, a presence that will stop at nothing to ensure they each pay for their sins of the past.
Whilst its predecessor centred around a (for the time) sizzling hot cast (mostly) at the height of their fame, this rather more subdued offering instead goes for a strangely CW-friendly roster instead. Page and Diego Luna are arguably its biggest names – and, coincidentally, the only really engaging presences to be found – whilst Dope’s Kiersey Clemons, Belle’s James Norton, and Vampire Diaries alum Nina Dobrev somewhat forgettably round out the rest of the troupe. None are particularly memorable, largely thanks to a screenplay by Source Code writer Ben Ripley offering up a wealth of backstory for everyone involved, but skimping heavily on anything close to real character development – despite the actual narrative of Flatliners historically hinging on the closure of outright character arcs.
A lot of Flatliners’ shortcomings, though, unquestionably fall at the feet of director Niels Arden Oplev, who – despite having delivered rather stirring and atmospheric work in the past, with films such as The (original) Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and 2008’s Worlds Apart – simply seems to be phoning this one in with little of a sense of place and nothing close to a defined attitude beyond visibly scoffing “meh, we’re doing Flatliners again, nobody’s here for the art.” There are base moments of jump scares and a plot that could lightly engage someone with literally zero knowledge of Flatliners as even a concept (a tough ask, considering even comedies routinely reference the film nowadays), but those with a casual knowledge of contemporary horror will find nothing new and little with which to really engage here, beyond the amusement of it bearing a faint tonal similarity to the forgotten 2008 horror flick Pathology.
In some regards, doing nothing to change the title for this second go-around may have actually been kismet – Flatliners lacking any real life of its own, and demonstrating entirely that any heartbeat it might have had can be found only what came beforehand.