Producer: Michael Douglas, Laurence Mark and Peter Safran
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer: Ben Ripley
Stars: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons and Kiefer Sutherland
Studio: Columbia Pictures
The message of this remake of the 1990 thriller is that one must own up to his mistakes. If so, the makers and cast of the new “Flatliners” need to apologize immediately. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (of the original Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” as well as the premiere episode of “Mr. Robot”) from a script by Ben Ripley (“Source Code”), it’s smoothly made (with slick widescreen cinematography by Eric Kress), but incredibly suspense-free and tedious.
The catalyst now is med student Courtney (Ellen Page), who blames herself—not without cause—for the car accident that took her younger sister’s life, so she enlists fellow students Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), an old classmate with a pushy mother, and handsome ladies’ man Jamie (James Nolan) in an experiment to determine what humans actually experience at time of death—by “flatlining” before being revived. They will be joined, accidentally, by two of their comrades—hot Marlo (Nina Dobrev) and brainy Ray (Diego Luna).
Courtney is the first to flatline, and emerges with heightened intellectual abilities and skills—she answers all the diagnostic questions posed by their ultra-demanding mentor (Kiefer Sutherland, not playing his character from the first film), and can even play the piano again after long years of ignoring the keyboard. But her time in the hereafter also included visitations from her dead sister, who apparently holds her responsible for her demise and now becomes a vengeful wraith haunting her.
She doesn’t tell her friends that, however, and so all of them—save right-thinking Ray—decide to follow her lead. Sophia gains the confidence to break from her mother’s control (and bed Jamie), but is tortured by recollections of the time that she posted embarrassing pictures of a classmate on the internet. Jamie’s session doesn’t seem to have much positive effect beyond a feeling of exhilaration, but it brings a frightening reminder of a girl (Anna Arden) whom he got pregnant and then abandoned and who now stalks him with a knife. As for Marlo, she’s tormented by a terrible secret: she made an error in a patient’s medication that led to his death, and then covered up the error. The dead man, it appears, wants to take his revenge on her.
Much of the movie therefore consists of supposedly spooky sequences in which the various flatliners are pursued by those they have wronged. These are shot by Kress, edited by Tom Elkins and scored by Nathan Barr to provide plenty of sudden shocks, but they never manage to generate many scares. Moreover, they lack the explicit blood-and-gore that horror addicts expect nowadays. However much one might applaud the restraint, it has to be said that Oplev hasn’t managed to devise any alternative chill-raisers.
The original Joel Schumacher movie was populated by an array of up-and-coming stars—Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts. This new one has Page (the star of “Juno” who has had a medium career since), Luna (whose resume hasn’t exactly skyrocketed since “Y Tu Mama Tambien”), Dobrev (from TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”), Clemons (from “Transparent’) and Norton (from PBS’ “Grantchester”)—not a comparable lineup. They’re all attractive young performers and get by, but there’s no spark among them. The Toronto locations are nice, though, with the university exteriors and hospital interiors pretty impressive.
It’s possible that a revived “Flatliners” could have worked if imaginatively rethought, but Oplev’s plodding version simply arrives D.O.A.