Apparently Flatliners is a remake of a 1990 film directed by Joel Schumacher. If that isn’t telling enough of how bad this movie was before it even existed, I don’t know what is. I haven’t seen the original, so I’m judging the reboot on its own merits. I had seen one trailer several months ago, but other than that, I knew nothing about the film as I walked into the theater. As I walked out, though, I knew that I had seen one of the worst films of the year.
It follows five medical students, one of which is curious about the afterlife and has her fellow doctors stop her heart and then resuscitate her. They all want to try it after hearing about her experiences, so it becomes like a drug. They all experience a trip when they die, but each one becomes less and less enjoyable. It seems like if one of them had a bad experience, they would tell the others not to participate, but I guess none of them thought much of seeing strange and demonic things when they died.
Eventually, after going out into the streets and causing havoc while they were high on death, the friends begin to witness supernatural events and realize they are being haunted by their past sins. This is where the film crosses over from sci-fi to horror territory, and it’s also where it drops off completely and becomes a cliché, amateur-looking scare-fest without one redeeming quality. I didn’t count the jumpscares in the movie, but if I had tried, I would have lost count after a few minutes. There isn’t one suspenseful scene without a loud, jarring noise and a poorly rendered CGI ghost popping out of the corner. It makes you jump, but the tension is instantly drained and it has no effect on the story.
Any attempts to add some sort of depth to the characters and their relationships are abrupt and frankly very sad. It seems like the writers forgot completely about making the characters seem like they liked each other, so they just paired each of them up and shoe-horned in a scene of sensuality that contributes nothing to the characterization or the overall plot.
Nearly every teenage horror movie trope I can think of takes some form in Flatliners. Intensifying music introduces the suspense, then the sound drains out, only to be followed by a dark figure appearing or grabbing one of the main characters. At one point girl is dragged by an unseen entity by her legs, clawing at the floor. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that actually happens twice in the film. The visual effects that make actors look ghostly or produce a cloud of dark mist in the background are very poorly done, and appear like they belong in a student film. There are even some entire environments that are completely CGI, and it looks awfully fake and isn’t believable in the least.
The majority of the characters in Flatliners are complete idiots. They put themselves in situations that nobody would voluntarily get themselves into, only to be haunted and tormented by the personification of their guilty consciences. In one scene, a character walks into an elevator, with the obvious intention of travelling to another floor. She stands still for a while, waiting for the door to close. When it doesn’t, she presses the “close door” button several times. It finally closes, and she immediately panics and tries to open it again. She rapidly pushes the emergency button, screaming and running around the elevator because I guess she finally decided she wants to get off.
It’s stupid moments like that that make me hate all of the characters and wish for the worst for them. The tension that is already poorly done is even less effective when I don’t care one bit for the people experiencing it. Flatliners is a mess of a horror film with many attributes just thrown together, but without any lasting effect or the tiniest sliver of enjoyment. There’s even a line of narration at the end. That’s right, a single line of narration that comes out of nowhere, to narrate one scene that the writers probably thought wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Maybe whoever wrote the film was also high on death when they did.
— Camden McDonald