Flatliners: A Good Day to Die …Then and Now

We’ve always had an innate fascination with death. In fact, Freud himself once argued that we are born with a death drive – thanatos.  See what Marvel did there? Quite obviously, horror movies deal with death as it’s pretty much part and parcel with the genre. But horror movie have also frequently explored where humanity fits in the grander scheme of things. From Frankenstein to Re-Animator, horror often concerns itself with the consequences of our desire to control the natural forces around us. Joel Schumacher’s (The Lost Boys) modest 1990 box office hitFlatliners, gave audiences a ‘Brat-pack’-lite take on this theme. Having ransacked the ’80’s horror catalogue in the 2000’s, Hollywood eventually turned its attention to the 1990’s. In 2017, Flatliners got its remake. Like the original, this Flatliners stacked its cast with several bright young actors. But how does it compare to the original?

Flatliners (1990) Offered 90’s Audiences Light Frights

Following his success with The Lost Boys, Joel Schumacher wasted little time returning to the horror genre with Flatliners. Featuring a cast of hot young-and-upcoming stars that included Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt, Flatliners proved to be a modest box office hit. It was also one of those movies that sharply divided critics and audiences. Flatliners’ story of medical students experimenting with ‘life after death’ was hip horror-lite for the Generation X but less appealing for critics at the time. While Peter Fiaridi’s screenplay bases its horror around the confrontation of guilt and our sins in the afterlife, there’s not much depth to the concept. Instead Flatliners uses the idea to set up safe jolts and scares. And that’s the basic thrust of Flatliners – safe scares for general audiences in darkened movie theatres. This is fun popcorn horror that lets you walk out after the credits without feeling unsettled.

This is fun popcorn horror that let’s you walk out after the credits without feeling unsettled.

The strengths of Flatliners lies in Schumacher’s slick direction and the strong cast. Love him or hate him, Schumacher knows how to stage his action and suspense scenes with style. He also uses colour and blue tinting to give the characters’ visions a nightmarish quality. If the material is a little superficial, the cast is more than up to the task of elevating it. Sutherland brings the same intensity to his role as he did as Jack Bauer in 24. Both Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts are excellent with Bacon’s ‘David’ representing the moral core. Oliver Platt capably adds some levity, not unlike his role in Lake Placid. It’s a fun and diverting movie with little depth or tension.

Flatliners (2017) Remake Offers More of the Same With Diminished Returns

In spite of its interesting premise, the original Flatliners was by no means a classic. In fact, this is probably one of those rare cases where a remake has an opportunity to re-imagine a concept. Maybe this time some of those deep philosophical questions might get a bit more treatment. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and starring Elliot Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev, the Flatliners remake hit theatres in September 2017. In spite of its potential, the remake fared even worse with critics, taking a critical drubbing on Rotten Tomatoes. To be fair, the Flatliners remake is nowhere near as awful as its Tomatometer suggests. Like the original film, Flatliners is guilty of lacking any genuine scares or suspense. Aside from a few cheap jump scares, Flatliners plays it very safe. As a result, the remake never creates any sustainable tension. Maybe one or two jolts register but Oplev never convinces audiences that things won’t wrap up nicely.

Most importantly, Ben Ripley’s updated screenplay sticks to the original’s simplistic ‘atonement’ approach for past sins.

Perhaps where Flatliners truly falters is in its refusal to diverge from the original movie. The ‘sins’ of the main characters are updated for time period – Elliot Page’s ‘Courtney’ is responsible for a car crash while texting that killed her sister. A few other plot points are altered here and there, but the end destination remains the same. Most importantly, Ben Ripley’s updated screenplay sticks to the original’s simplistic ‘atonement’ approach for past sins. No effort is made to delve deeper with the source material. This leaves the remake feeling like just a glossier update when there was real potential to offer a new twist.

Original Or Remake? Take Your Pick

Flatliners presented the rare opportunity for a remake to re-imagine what was a promising, if not underwelmingly executed, concept. In a strange move, the remake opted to make largely cosmetic changes. By and large, the remake maintains the original’s simplistic morality angle intact. The result is two similar and largely inoffensively diverting efforts that will have different appeals depending on your age. Younger audiences will prefer the updated Flatliners, while older viewers will enjoy the nostalgia of the original film. Neither film is bad, but you’re not likely to add either one to your favourite’s list.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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