Thursday 12 October 2017
2017 USA Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
UK cinema release print.
Warning: One mild spoiler in here.
Well, my first reaction to hearing that there was a remake of Flatliners was... why?
The original 1990 movie starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon was a bit of a classic for my generation... although I honestly can’t remember too much about it now (might have to pick up a Blu Ray at some point so I can rewatch and review it here). I know I was fairly passionate about it, like a lot of people I knew and... I think I went to see it about three times at the cinema on its initial release. That being said, after one more watch a few years later on VHS (the cinema to home video release delay in those days was somewhere between 3-5 years... youngsters don’t realise how lucky they are right now) I kind of forgot about it until, pretty much, I heard the news of the remake/reboot/sequel. And even after seeing it I’m still not quite sure which of those it is... pick one.
I wasn’t rushing out to see this but I did quite like the trailer for the new one and I always quite enjoy Ellen Page as an actress so... I thought I might as well give it a go. I’ve got nothing much against remakes... after all, some of the, arguably, best versions of films are remakes (such as the Humphrey Bogart remake of The Maltese Falcon or the Charlton Heston remake of Ben Hur - reviewed here). I decided to go and enjoy it for what it was and not be too judgemental. I wasn’t sure how different it could be, though, being as the plot on the trailer looked like it was following the original movie fairly closely, aside from character names and a more equal mix of male and female characters.
It has to be said that this new version of Flatliners is actually pretty good although, to be honest, there really isn’t a heck of a lot that’s been changed from the original story. It’s still about a bunch of med students, one of whom craves to see what happens on ‘the other side’ in the afterlife. In this case, it’s Ellen Page’s character Courtney who instigates things, pulling together a small team to help her chart her brain while she’s ‘flatlining’ and making sure someone qualified enough is there to restart her heart after she’s been dead for a minute. In this case the character is motivated by guilt over something that’s happened to her in her past and she wants to see someone again.
Like the original film, once she’s flatlined and walked about in an eerily shot dream world, the majority of the others want to have a go too... especially when they see Courtney’s brain power increase to enable her to do way more than you would imagine she could in such a short space of time. However, like the original, their journeys into another realm within themselves starts to bring ‘anomolies’ to haunt their waking hours and try to kill them unless a certain set of conditions relating to shady secrets from their past are fulfilled. From then on the film becomes more of a horror film for the remainder of the time... or at least as much as it can be for a kid friendly movie (I’m amazed this got a 15 rating in the UK... this is PG material, surely?).
And, surprisingly, I actually found myself liking it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would. The ensemble of actors are pretty good, especially Page and Diego Luna, who does a pretty good job in the only movie I’ve seen him in other than Rogue One (reviewed here). Give this man some solid lead roles! I also thought the set dressing and choice of compositions around these, quite detailed atmospheres created for the story were all pretty good too. Perhaps more so than the original in some ways although, as I mentioned above, this film sticks to that template very closely, with most of the broad strokes being a repeat performance and mainly just the details of the ‘misdeeds’ of the various protagonists being changed this time around.
Having said that... and this was a bit of a surprise moment for me, hence the spoiler warning... one of the five does die in the film and the rest of the gang doesn’t manage to bring said character back from the dead. This leads, of course, to that character’s inevitable return appearance on ‘the other side’ near the end but that’s okay, it’s a logical progression and it helps move the story forward when this happens. Another difference is that one of the five, the more responsible one of the group, doesn’t flatline at all in this version... which I thought was kinda odd but also interesting.
Now there seems to have been some confusion around whether this is a remake of... or a sequel to... the original Flatliners. Not least confused by this, it seems to me, was Kiefer Sutherland who told interviewers that he would be reprising his role from the first one in this film. Sutherland is in two scenes in this and, although the character name is different, it does seem a natural progression of the character (including a prop I noticed which rang a vague bell... but I’d have to look at the original again before I can confirm that particular something). My understanding is that there was a scene shot for this which revealed that, despite the name change, Sutherland was indeed revealed to be playing the same character and I’ve read that this scene might resurface in a slightly longer cut when it gets released on DVD and Blu Ray. Which will be interesting if it does because, frankly, the fact that a group of medical students playing God in the same way that another group of students did decades before is an interesting touch (I also liked that they got the famous line from the original... “Today is a good day to die.” into the screenplay, this time said by James Norton).
One of the things I do remember about the first version of Flatliners was that it kinda peaked about three quarters of the way through the movie and didn’t really recover after the point where it turned into more of a horror movie. Although this new one is only five minutes shorter than the 1990 one, I did think the pacing and interest on this was a lot tighter... it never gets dull and that can only be a good thing. The ending of this is a little better too. Where the first film ended, if memory serves, with a last minute rescue of one of the five from the jaws of death, this movie ends with a much more haunting epilogue involving a specific tune played on a piano which is a little memento of one of the characters thrown from the spirit world... which slightly contradicts any possibility that the way the brain is changed by death is the key to the various phenomena the group are experiencing but it is kind of a fun nod, it has to be said.
All in all, I wouldn’t say the new Flatliners is any better than the 1990 classic but, then again, I wouldn’t say it’s any worse either and there are some definite improvements to the pacing which counts for a lot. Not a film I feel I could revisit that often but certainly nowhere near the disappointment I was expecting from it. Maybe give it a go if you are not too particularly attached to the first movie and, even then, you might still find that you can appreciate this one.