Friday, 29 September 2017

Review: Flatliners (2017)

Flatliners (2017) (SPOILERS)
Cert: 15 / 110 mins / Dir. Niels Arden Oplev / Trailer

Although I've marked this review as containing spoilers, you can rest assured that the only person who has actually spoiled Flatliners is screenwriter Ben Ripley. There, I said it.

Get your clicking/tapping finger ready, there are footnotes…

A retooling of the Joel Schumacher's 1990 movie of the same name, the story revolves around five medical students, working in a hospital's Department of Unfeasibly Attractive Junior Doctors (Courtney played by Ellen Page, Ray by Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev's Marlo, James Norton's Jamie and Kiersey Clemons as Sophia), who synthesise near-death experiences*1 in order to document the effects on the human brain and record their observations upon returning*2. But as they each brush against the void's threshold, it seems they're bringing back more than just research material.

I should add at this early point that I saw the first Flatliners movie a couple of times back in the day, but it didn't leave enough of an impression that I've bought, rented or streamed it during the intervening years. One would perhaps think that this freedom from nostalgic baggage would open the door to a more easy-going 2017 experience. Oh that it were so simple. It could be charitably said that Oplev's film perfectly captures the naive spirit*3 and execution of its progenitor and surrounding cinematic era. In many ways, storytelling has (at least superficially) evolved over the past two and a half decades; Flatliners has at least lived up to its name. It's not even as interesting as the poster up top, there.

To their eternal credit, the cast are doing their best with a cack-handed screenplay*4 and still failing. Keifer Sutherland is in this for no reason (which is to say that the film is a remake rather than a sequel and he doesn't play an older version of his character from the first film, plus he has nothing to do but limp (literally) through each of his dialogue-heavy scenes). After fifteen minutes of stilted banter, Captain Obvious exclamations*5, and inane reactions it becomes clear that things won't get any better*6.

When it comes to delivering the chills and shocks of the story however, Flatliners is on firmer ground at least. Although these are used so sparsely that you'd swear blind the movie only remembers it has a supernatural element every twenty minutes or so. And if it's by-the-numbers horror you're after, that's hardly a rarity in 2017*7. Also on the plus-side, the audio-design is nicely implemented throughout, with the surrounds fully utilised rather than just blaring at the audience from all corners simultaneously.

But for a movie which explains itself so much, you'd be forgiven for expecting it to make more sense. I think it's fair to say that science and logic do not have sufficiently large roles in this film that they'd be included in the credits list*8.

As a psychological thriller/horror, Flatliners is erratic and substandard. As a parable about professional and personal ethics, it's downright excruciating. Our heroes eventually work out that they're not just being haunted by visions of their deceased and wronged loved ones, but also people who are still alive (and have no fucking clue that this is subsequently going on). So the survivors*9 gradually track down past nemeses/victims and apologise. Now, I don't remember the original version of this story beginning as Final Destination then turning into My Name Is Earl in the third act, but like I said, it's been a while.

Our final revelation comes in the form of Courtney appearing to Marlo in her final defibrillated-excursion to tell her "…owning up to your mistakes is one thing, but you have to forgive yourself!"*10.

Well, I hope that salves the conscience of Ben Ripley, if nothing else…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
That's right

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Hahahahaha no.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
In no way, shape or form.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In no way, shape or form.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shall ask you to jolly well explain yourself.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Cassian Andor is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I didn't go into the cinema wanting to hate Flatliners, and I didn't come out wanting to award it such a low score. But after everything I've written here, I can hardly justify giving it anything higher…

*1 Serious question: Why has a working hospital got a fully functional CT scanner just sitting in pristine, operating condition down in the basement? [ BACK ]

*2 Right seriously though, Courtney's introductory justification for the experimentation is (and I'm quoting here - I wrote this shit down) "If the brain is just another organ, why doesn't it just go dark when we die?" Er, I dunno, perhaps because it's the most massively complex part of the body which governs all survival instincts so why would it instantly blink out in the event of anything other than a blunt-force head trauma? Alas, she continues "What if we could map what happens after you die?" …well you could only map the brain up until the point it dies, couldn't you? You're talking about coming back and discussing your spiritual experiences, precisely none of which involves that CT scanner there. The way you're planning things is like trying to analyse the flavour of a souffle by examining the cooling oven after it's been taken out. Now I'm admittedly a lot more cynical than I was in 1990; I wasn't expecting a documentary guys, but at least try to make your fiction sound plausible and/or sincere… [ BACK ]

*3 If I recall correctly, the Schumacher's movie had a vaguely hipster-vibe. Our protagonists then were the cool kids at the back of the lecture who sneer at the tutor but still pass with full marks. By comparison, this film is in special after-school remedial classes, but is still too disruptive during lessons to evoke any sympathy. [ BACK ]

*4"I… hope this doesn't become awkward" says Marlo, immediately after the most cringe-inducing sex scene you've watched since that time you were in the living room with your parents during a Dennis Potter teleplay... [ BACK ]

*5 Jamie in the basement: "If the school finds out we've been flatlining, we will be expelled!". Thanks mate, I think there were a couple of people in the back row who hadn't already worked that out over the past fucking hour and a half. [ BACK ]

*6 Jamie on the roof: "We're safe, no-one ever comes up here!". Well twenty minutes ago it seemed like no-one ever comes down to the basement, either. What the fuck kind of hospital are they running with all these rooms and machinery doing nowt? [ BACK ]

*7 Speaking of which, in much the same vein as mother! a couple of weeks ago, the demographically-selected trailers before today's techno-chiller were for The Ritual, Jigsaw, The Snowman, Blade Runner 2049 and… A Bad Moms Christmas. Yes, really. Again. I honestly believe that Huayi Bros and STX films are just flinging shit at the wall at this point, and seeing what sticks. [ BACK ]

*8 Why is there no number-plate on Marlo's Mini Cooper? Seriously, front and back. Nothing. Other cars in the film have got them., but not hers. WHY DID I EVEN NOTICE THIS? [ BACK ]

*9 By which I mean everyone but Courtney and Ray. Because Courtney is the only one who actually dies in the whole "messing with death for two hours" film, and Ray doesn't take the flatlining trip so has no demons to quash. Seriously though, he's on that poster looking all "CCTV effect from The Ring" and he doesn't even have any of that shit happening to him. Pretty certain that's borderline fraudulent… [ BACK ]

*10 Yep, the real actual moral of the story here is that millennials take too much responsibility. "Killed your kid sister while you were texting at the wheel? Go and have a spa-break!". Fuck's sake, mate… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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