I think it’s fair to say that horror films have been quite good recently. There was a few years where every horror film that came out was complete crap but recently things have got a lot better. Mostly thanks to the independent scene, horror films have gotten scary again with many directors finding completely new ways to terrify us and make sure we never sleep again. But now it is time for Hollywood to step up to the mark.
Courtney (Ellen Page, Juno) is a student doctor who is fascinated with the afterlife. And so to see what happens to us after death, she sets up an experiment with some of her friends where they temporarily kill her before bringing her back to life. At first it is an exhilarating experience that changes her life but she realises that the door to the afterlife is not one that should be pushed.
The reason Hollywood horror often gets criticised is because it has a samey formula and a very lazy method of scaring people. As explained by BBC Film Critic Mark Kermode, all they do is go quiet for a long time but they have a loud noise which is meant to make you jump. Unfortunately, Flatliners returns to this tradition.
In fairness the movie doesn’t do a lot of atmosphere set-up because it really wants us to care about the characters involved. The majority of the movie is us spending time with these guys and not just as they exposit, sometimes it’s just them hanging around developing their relationships. But it’s not just about giving them the time to develop, you need to give them something to develop from. Everyone here is a stereotype. Jamie (James Norton, Happy Valley) is a trust fund kid. Sophia (Kiersey Clemons, Dope) is the brainy one. Courtney is a girl. There’s seriously not much more than that for her character, she is just a woman that is a medical doctor. They never get out of these very narrow character definitions and so never become as interesting as the script thinks they are.
And that becomes a big problem with the scares because these are defined by the character. When the characters do ‘flatline’, they not only have their mind widened but they also end up with visions of sins they have done in the past. Because these sins torment them in the second and final third, you really need to be invested in the characters to make sure you are at the slightest bit on edge. And because you aren’t, they completely flop. You have these long scenes where technically there’s nothing wrong, the shots are right, they are fairly creative set-ups, you just don’t care because none of the characters feel real or even likable.
And that means instead of being scared, you end up being bored. Bored out of your mind. During this movie, I decided to look at my walls a lot because there was not much going on. I think the point where I tuned out in favour of my walls was when once again they were arguing about the ethics of flatlining. An interesting topic yes but not one that is done with any nuance in the film. Basically most of the characters say it’s amazing, Ray (Diego Luna, Rogue One) say it’s not and then they go and do it again because otherwise the movie would stop. Now the film did make me notice that I’ve still got some blank space on the wall so you’ve probably made a poster seller on Amazon about £10 richer. So it does provide for small business.
The people I do feel sorry for are the actors. Because they are young and still have a future in this business, they give it a go. They really try their best to bring some life to this script, to at least make you feel for the cardboard cut-out characters they are. Unfortunately if you want to make lemonade you have to have some lemons and all they have is some rotten fruit best used for chucking at men in the stocks. I’m not sure if the actors thought they had something good on their hands or if they realised that with how little work some of them have done that they would probably need to use something from this for their showreel but you’ve got to give them credit for caring about a piece of crap movie like this.
I hate to go for the obvious joke but Flatliners flatlined. I appreciate that somewhere in this movie there was an idea of making a horror movie where the scares come from the character’s inner demons. But that is squashed because of the laziness in the script. With this set-up the movie needs to have in-depth characters but these feel like they purchased from a flat-pack movie shop. You can’t rely on the goodwill of young actors trying their best to make sure you are scared, they need to be backed by a good script tied with creative direction and maybe even some scares that aren’t just loud noises. This movie will barely raise a pulse.
Dir: Niels Arden Oplev
Scr: Ben Ripley
Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemmons, Kiefer Sutherland
Prd: Michael Douglas, Laurence Mark, Peter Safran
DOP: Eric Kress
Music: Nathan Barr
Runtime: 109 mins