Directed by: Nils Arden Oplev
Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons, James Norton
Rated: PG – 13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references
There’s a mushy dividing line between horror movies that are bad and horror movies that are so bad they’re good. “Flatliners,” Nils Arden Oplev’s remake of the 1990 Kiefer Sutherland vehicle, wobbles around soggily in that divide, never quite sliding into enjoyably-bad camp but definitely not being actually good.
The plot is roughly the same as the original film’s: medical student Courtney (Ellen Page) asks a few comrades to perform an unusual experiment on her: put her in a scanner, stop her heart for two minutes, then start it up again. She wants to medically explore the afterlife. The first experiment is a success, and Courtney returns to life with some new talents – including a borderline-creepy ability to remember things, which is very useful for exhausted medical students. She also starts experiencing what might be hallucinations – ghostly activities in her apartment. Courtney doesn’t mention those to her friends, and one by one they decide to “flatline” as well. Of course, the maybe-hallucinations start affecting (and injuring) everyone else who flatlines, and the students band together trying to figure out what’s going on.
It’s a pretty standard setup, and everything else about the film is also pretty standard. The acting is fine, though the actors other than Page are uninspiring (the original had people like Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland giving it some charisma, but these folks don’t have even a tenth of that). The script is workmanlike and pretty predictable, from the students hooking up with each other to the dialog straight out of every bad horror movie you’ve ever seen. It all has the subtlety of a fully-charged defibrillator paddle to the face, especially once the students figure out the lesson they’re supposed to be learning from their experiences.
The special effects range from decent to pretty good, making them the most successful aspect of the film. Each person’s experience during their flatline is different, some are beautiful and positive, others are grim and frightening. The hauntings are a mixed bag. The students find themselves transported to ghostly, ashen settings that are basically muted copies of “Silent Hill.” Sometimes they’re stalked by creepy, corpse-ish people who have reason to be angry with them. The effects are good, but the whole thing has a pretty familiar feel. If you watch a lot of horror movies, all of this is pretty standard. One bright spot: not every jump-scare gets a musical sting. That was a bit refreshing.
It’s a pity, really. Everything is just competent enough to prevent “Flatliners” from slipping over the edge into full-on terrible-movie fun, but it’s missing the spark of creativity necessary to lift it out of its mediocre sludge. If you’re a huge fan of Ellen Page or have some other driving motivation to see it, it might be worth your time. Otherwise, skip it.