Coming off of the backburner of It, Flatliners has a lot to live up to in terms of dramatic horror storytelling. Remaking-rebooting-continuing the story told in the 1990 film of the same name, we follow the life of aspiring medical student Courtney (Ellen Page). After a past trauma many years ago, Courtney has become obsessed with the chemical effects the brain goes through when the body dies. She, along with four of her fellow students (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons), participates in an experiment they dub as ‘flatlining.’ Essentially, what happens is that they stop their hearts, scan their brain for activity and then revive themselves.
Director Niels Arden Oplev blew things out of the water with the 2009 Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film, but since then, he’s yet to create something nearly as memorable. His distinct, dark visual style leaves thumbprints all over this film, often creating some really memorable, visceral shots (that mostly occur in the first act), but they’re few and far between. For the most part, it feels like a generic studio production with abysmal CGI and weird, hypnotic, ugly dream sequences occurring during the actual ‘flatlining.’ They look awful, fail to entice and create a feeling of befuddlement. An initial sequence boasts with potential, but everything that follows is simply the worst.
The justifications behind the hauntings prove even worse than what’s already come. Its part demon-based, part self-induced, part trance, part vengeance story, yet it’s never specified which. The film leaves so much of its plot shrouded in mystery, not answering its own questions. It’s not one of those scenarios where it’s scarier when you don’t know what’s happening; you just legitimately don’t know what’s happening or why you should care. The third act takes things into a whole new realm, all while summarizing its story in the minimal amount of time. You could create an entirely separate movie just using the events from the third act, but please, let’s not continue this story any further. Have mercy on our poor, poor souls.
When it does decide to follow through with its horror elements, it fails over and over and over. The people sitting around me, gasping as the lights went off in the scene, were way scarier than anything put on the screen. Part of the problem lies within the suspense, or lack thereof. A few scares, while mostly irrelevant to the plot, are genuinely creative. They’re repeated to the point of excruciation, but there’s a bit of thought behind them. The problem is that they’re executed in a way that ruins the moment. There’s always either a bad music cue, lack of set up or jarring editing getting in the way to make the moment ineffective.
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