FLATLINERS. Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, and Kiefer Sutherland. Directed by Neils Arden Oplev. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, sex scene and coarse language). 110 min.

This Canadian, science fiction, horror movie follows a film released with the same name in 1990. It tells the story of five young medical students, who conduct experiments in secret that deliver near-death experiences. The experience of dying, and then coming back is called “flatlining”. The original film, was directed by a different Director, Joel Schumaker, and was a cult horror movie 27 years ago. This version is directed by Danish Director, Niels Arden Oplev, who directed “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” (2009). Kiefer Sutherland returns to take the role of the students’ mentor.

The story-line in this film and the 1990 movie is basically the same, and the similarity raises the question whether this film is a remake of the 1990 film, or a sequel to it. With Neils Oplev in charge, however, this film is not a sequel, or a remake. It is Oplev’s reimagining of what was seen before, and it is a vivid retell. The original film had students trying to kill themselves in the name of scientific discovery. Here, they do the same, but the effects of flatlining are darker than before in the consequences that follow, and not everyone survives them.

In the film, five medical students (Ellen Page as Courtney, Diego Luna as Ray, Nina Dobrev as Marlo, James Norton as Jamie, and Kiersey Clemons as Sophia) become obsessed by what lies beyond life. Specifically, the four students who flatline stop their hearts for short periods to experience the afterlife - they purposefully “die” and bring each other back to life to experience what life means “after death”, and then they discuss it. In moving to the edge of life, those who flatline are forced to confront past wrongdoings, and the paranormal consequences of moving too close to what happened to them traumatically in the past. The experiments take the students into a world of experience that incorporates previous misfortunes, which they feel guilty about, and they are seriously affected by the consequences.

In the movie, Oplev focuses on the hallucinations that haunt the students after flatlining is over, and there is a Swedish “noir” quality to many of the film’s scenes. Oplev makes the most of it to produce a cleverly intelligent horror movie that genuinely scares.

The 1990 movie starred Julia Roberts (post “Pretty Woman”, 1990), and Kevin Bacon. This film uses younger and less well established actors. Since 1990, however, massive strides have occurred in special effects, and the visual effects in the film are impressive. Scary childhood experiences are used effectively to reveal hallucinated traumas that range from bullying, to erotic fantasising, to psychological terrorising, and to violence and death (mostly unintended).

The film argues that a psychological “high” (or “low”) can be experienced by attempting to kill yourself, and this arouses pleasure. In this respect, the film is particularly risky viewing for adolescents: planning to take one’s life is a morally contentious theme to embellish in any context. The clever part of this movie, is that flatlining provides a rational explanation for the disturbances that follow. In the film, it can be argued that the students were unwilling victims of what happens to them, and the clear moral message of the movie is that viewers need “to face up to what we find, and then forgive ourselves ”, and wrong needs to be put right to remove the haunting. But for those who flatline, that is easier said than done. Flatliners suffer, because they are faced with the guilt of doing what they know should not have been done, and resurrected anguish runs deep.

This is a movie that deals with grim events with cool, imaginative efficiency. It advertises itself openly under the caption, ”you haven't lived, until you've died”, and in so doing, the film riskily  thrives on the misfortunes of its participants, and communicates practices not to be attempted by any means. Oplev competently directs the film with commanding flair, and assured confidence - which is all the more reason, of course, why parents need to be wary of their children seeing a horror movie as good as this one, unaccompanied. 

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released September 28th., 2017

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