Considering Sony’s Flatliners remake didn’t screen for critics and was already batting 0% on RottenTomatoes after 18 reviews by the time I saw it Friday morning, it isn’t that bad. That being said, it also isn’t good. Once it posits the existence of the supernatural, it spends the rest of the movie slowly strangling the ghost in its own machine. It’s a film that begins with a med student’s promising findings about the existence of the afterlife and ends with her friends literally pitching those findings into the ocean. I don’t know if that’s anti-religion or anti-science, but it’s definitely anti-enjoyable storytelling.
The film is set among a cabal of sexy med students like the original (their advisor is played by Kiefer Sutherland for #brandsynergy). Ellen Page plays Courtney, a resident who has witnessed some intriguing phenomena in the brain scans of dying patients (which show up on the scans as lightning bolts, which I’m pretty sure involves some dramatic license). So intrigued is she that she becomes her own guinea pig, tricking some of her fellow students into stopping her heart and then reviving her to measure what’s happening in her brain as she expires (the afterlife, I guess?). To get them down to her conveniently located MRI machine in the med school basement, she tricks horndog Jamie (James Norton) into thinking she wants to have sex with him there and lures fragile Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) with the promise of studying help. When Jamie bungles the revive, he makes a frantic call to Ray (Diego Luna), the class prodigy, who runs out of the hospital with Marlo (Nina Dobrev) in tow, thus assembling the full Captain Planet of conspirators. (Like a “murder” of crows, Captain Planets was just how we counted conspirators in the 90s).
After her revival, Courtney is suddenly full of new skills. She solves medical mysteries by remembering obscure drug interaction warnings, bakes delicious bread based on her grandma’s recipe, and even shreds on the piano, despite the fact that she hasn’t played since she was 11. Oh, and did I mention she’s suddenly super horny? Seeing how great Courtney is doing, suddenly all the cool kids want to kill themselves. “Flatline” quickly gets verbed. (“Pssst. Hey, kid. Wanna flatline?”) As Sophia says, “if we could bottle flatlining, we could sell it as a club drug.”
At this point in the movie, honestly, so far so good. Sure, Fight Club also pulled the “almost dying makes everything better” trick, but the idea that killing yourself is cool and sexy is a perfect schlock plot, and honestly, a dead-on observation about the last 70 years pop culture.