Courtney (Ellen Page), a medical student haunted by a past tragedy that left her obsessed with the afterlife, convinces fellow students Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) to assist in a daring experiment. Using a defibrillator they stop Courtney's heart for sixty seconds whilst recording her brain activity. Once time runs out and they are unable to revive Courtney, two other med students, Marlo (Nina Dobrev) and Ray (Diego Luna - sporting unfortunate hair), step in and bring her back to life. Intrigued by after-effects that seemingly imbue Courtney with a new zest for life, remarkable intuitive abilities and a vast capacity for knowledge, the rest of the group subject themselves to the 'flatlining' experiment. Only to return with the paranormal manifestation of their past sins.
Back in 1990 Joel Schumacher's original Flatliners was widely dismissed as David Cronenberg for dummies: a tacky treatment of an interesting paranormal conceit. Enlivened solely by its starry cast of Nineties favourites. Somehow through the years it has been re-evaluated as a semi-classic, paving the way for the inevitable remake/reboot/conceptual sequel (no-one involved could settle on which of those it was). Assembling a similarly attractive ensemble of seasoned yet relatively fresh-faced players, the new Flatliners - co-produced, as was the original, by Michael Douglas - also brings Kiefer Sutherland back in a new role, though things get confusing as he sometimes seems like a grizzled older incarnation of his original character. Yet not once ponders, John McClane style, how the same shit could happen twice.
As contrived and melodramatic as its predecessor, the film endeavours to reconcile science with the spiritual only its ambitions are hampered by logic holes papered over with the most syrupy of soap opera side-plots. Just like Sutherland's original band of merry flatliners, Courtney, Ray, Marlo, Sophia and Jamie each carry guilt inside of them over past tragedies. Most of which involve either accidental death or callous behaviour though nothing truly heinous, lest they lose audience sympathy. Flatlining dredges these suppressed emotions back to the physical world as bog standard jump-scares, albeit after the gang collectively respond to their near-death experiences by getting wasted, partying on the dance floor, having a snowball fight and making out with each other. More or less like every other student you ever met that was not involved in an experimental jaunt into the afterlife.
While Schumacher staged his postmortem visions and lucid hallucinations with all the pop culture bombast of MTV, as only he could (including a riff on Don't Look Now (1973), the iconic horror film starring the other famous Sutherland), Danish director Niels Arden Oplev - the man behind the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) - deploys the same familiar crash, bang, wallop tactics found in the James Wan and Blumhouse school of fright filmmaking. The suspense sequences yield tepid thrills while the story goes nowhere beyond Grey's Anatomy style photogenic fretting wedded to a lot cod-philosophical waffle. Scripted by Ben Ripley, who wrote the vastly superior Source Code (2011), the film briefly treads fresh ground in its second act with an unexpected turn of events. Yet all too quickly course-corrects itself to follow the same trajectory as the original. The film also bears obvious signs of post-production tampering with key scenes curiously curtailed, as though someone set out to strip the script of what little substance it originally held. On a more positive note the cast acquit themselves well. Kiersey Clemons as the hesitant and insecure Sophia and British actor James Norton (Grantchester, War & Peace, McMafia) as smarmy womanizer Jamie both register strongly. As does the always welcome Nina Dobrev who shoulders the meatiest ethical dilemma. However, the film muddles its message about taking responsibility for one's actions with a conflicting counterpoint about learning to forgive yourself. It remains an insipid reboot of a property that was pretty vanilla to start with.