Saturday, October 21, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Flatliners (2017)

Flatliners (2017) was written by Ben Ripley and directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

Ripley is a very mediocre screenwriter who previously penned Species III, Species— The Awakening, The Watch, Source Code (oy) and Boychoir.

Opleve directed Dead Man Down and Speed Walking, along with episodes of various TV series such as Millennium, Under The Dome, Mr. Robot and Midnight, Texas. He also directed the original Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was a very good film. So what the hell happened here?

Oh... That explains everything.

Sony Pictures is the wonderful studio that pumps out hit after hit, year after year to universal critical accla... HAW, HAW, HAW! Sorry, I couldn't finish that sentence with a straight face. 

Seriously, the second I saw that logo flash across the screen, I wanted to get up and leave the cineplex, but my movie-going pal stopped me. Sony's the absolute worst, as they consistently churn out flop after flop. With the exception of Spider-Man: Homecoming (which they made with the help of Marvel Studios) and Baby Driver, this year was another grim one for Sony. Seeing them desperately try to come up with a hit is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Virtually every decision they make as a corporation is wrong. How the hell do Anthony Vinciquerra and Tom Rothman keep their jobs?

Flatliners asks the burning question, "Is There Something Beyond Death?" The answer is yes, but it's really, really boring and not the least bit scary.

The movie is of course a remake of the 1990 film of the same name. I was never much of a fan of the original (which was directed by Joel Schumacher of Batman & Robin fame!) what with its silly new-age pop psychology plotline. The film was a decent hit back in the day though, grossing $61 million against its $26 million budget. A big part of its success was no doubt due to its all Brat Pack cast, which included Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland, who were all red hot at the time.

The new Flatliners is virtually a carbon copy of the original, recreating it practically scene for scene. I don't understand why studios keep doing this. Why bother remaking a film if you're not going to bring something new to it? Give us some new insights or a different perspective. Anything besides the exact same movie.

Actually there's apparently great confusion as to whether this film is a sequel to the original or a reboot. According to the filmmakers it's a sequel, but there's absolutely nothing in the movie to indicate this. 

The only connection between the two versions is actor Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in the original as main character Dr. Nelson Wright. Sutherland shows up in Flatliners 2017 as well, playing Dr. Barry Wolfson, chief resident of the hospital.

For some reason, Sutherland seems convinced he's playing the same character in the new film, despite the fact that his name is different. In an interview, Sutherland said:
I play a professor at the medical university. It is never stated, but it will probably be very clearly understood that I'm the same character I was in the original Flatliners but that I have changed my name and I've done some things to move on from the experiments that we were doing in the original film.
Yeah, sorry Kiefer, but that was not clearly understood. In fact it's not mentioned at all, even in passing. There's no way the new Flatliners can possibly be a sequel, unless the filmmakers expect us to believe that the events that occurred in 1990 are playing out the exact same way here in 2017. Despite what Kiefer Sutherland thinks, it's a remake, plain and simple.

Sony chose not to screen Flatliners 2017 for critics, which of course is always a bad, bad sign. By keeping the film under wraps until the last possible moment, critics wouldn't have time to right unfavorable reviews, increasing the chances of a decent opening weekend. Nice try, Sony, but it didn't work.

So far the film is a HUGE flop, grossing just $16 million in the States against its meager $19 million budget. It's only made another $8 million overseas, for a worldwide total of just $24 million! Since movies need to gross twice their production budgets just to break even, it's unlikely that Flatliners will ever turn a profit. Better luck next time, Sony!


The Plot:
The movie opens with Courtney Holmes (played by Ellen Page) happily driving along with her little sister Tessa. They laugh and smile at one another, as they're obviously having the most perfect day ever. Uh-oh! If you don't sense disaster's about to happen, then you've never seen a movie before.

Right on cue, the film takes a dark turn as Courtney gets a text and takes her eyes off the road for just a second. Tessa screams, and Courtney looks up just in time to see construction equipment blocking the bridge ahead (I guess flagmen don't exist in this universe). Courtney swerves and her SUV slams into the bridge and violently flips into the stream below. A construction worker pulls Courtney from the water as the SUV sinks with Tessa trapped inside.

Nine years later, Courtney is now a med student, and is obsessed with the question of life after death (due to the guilt she feels about the whole killing her sister thing). She's constantly pestering patients who've experienced clinical death, asking what they remember about the experience. Some don't remember anything, while others give the standard "Bright Light/Peaceful Feeling/Dead Relatives Welcoming Them" answer.

Determined to know the truth, Courtney comes up with a hare-brained scheme, er I mean brilliant plan, enlisting her fellow med students to help her. Among them are Jamie, a spoiled rich kid who'd rather party than study, Marlo, a straight-laced, ambitious young resident, Sophia, a shy student whose mother controls every aspect of her life and Ray (played by Diego Luna, of Rogue One fame), a former firefighter who switched to medicine.

Courtney's experiment is simple. With her classmates' help she'll stop her heart, then once she's dead she'll look around and see if anything lies beyond. At the end of sixty seconds the others will revive her and she'll report her findings (if any). Naturally the other students are reluctant to deliberately kill a fellow student, since that's considered murder and all, but eventually they all agree except for Ray.

Courtney brings Jamie, Marlo and Sophia down to a little-known basement area of the hospital to perform the experiment. They set up the monitoring equipment, inject her with drugs and then stop her heart with a defibrillator. Once Courtney's dead, Ray shows up (I guess he got an invitation anyway?), and is horrified to see she went through with it. When the minute's up, the students try to resuscitate her, but can't. Ray, whose fireman training makes him more experienced at bringing people back to life (I guess?) finally steps in and successfully revives her.

The others excitedly ask Courtney what it was like on the other side. Unfortunately she can't tell them, as she says it's hard to remember or articulate. They examine the recordings and note there were sparks of electricity in Courtney's supposedly dead brain, indicating something was happening while she was dead. Ray spoils the fun by saying the spikes could have been just the death throes of an oxygen-starved brain (which is the correct answer).

Later the students go to a bar, and Courtney suddenly starts playing Clair De Lune on the piano. The next day she effortlessly offers complex and intricate diagnoses in class, which greatly impresses Dr. Barry Wolfson (played by Kiefer Sutherland), her grumpy, no-nonsense mentor. Apparently dying and getting better has somehow enhanced Courtney's brain.

Once the others see this, they all want to become Flatliners and kill themselves too, in order to soup up their own brains. Jamie goes first, determined to beat Courtney's paltry one minute of clinical death. Marlo goes next, upping the time limit even further. Finally even the meek and mild Sophia manages to drum up enough courage to die. The only one who refuses to participate is Ray, who's presumably seen enough sh*t to know better than to play around with death.

Shortly afterward, the Flatliners all begin experiencing disturbing visions. Courtney sees her dead sister Tessa popping up at random. Jamie sees an ex-girlfriend and a mysterious young boy. Marlo keeps seeing a patient she failed to save. Sophia's haunted by visions of a nude girl. Ray dismisses their visions, saying they're all crazy. Courtney becomes racked with guilt and admits to the others that she performed the experiment in order to see her dead sister, not to try and further medical knowledge. Really? I thought that was pretty obvious from the start.

The Flatliners' visions begin intensifying, eventually becoming physical. Marlo's attacked by the man in her vision, who tries to suffocate her with a roll of plastic. She ends up crashing her car, but survives. Jamie's stabbed in the hand by the boy in his vision. Sophia's assaulted by her vision as well. Courtney gets it the worst though, as the vision of her sister Tessa stalks her through her apartment. Ghost Tessa chases Courtney onto the fire escape and actually pushes her to her death (!).

The others then realize they're being haunted by their inner demons, which Flatlining has somehow brought to life. Jamie admits he got his ex-girlfriend pregnant, and left her to fend for herself. Marlo says she killed her patient by giving him the wrong meds and altering the records so no one would find out. Sophia says that in high school she sent a classmate's nude photos to the whole school to sabotage her chances of being valedictorian.

The Flatliners then spring into action to reconcile their pasts before they're killed by their respective demons. Jamie tracks down his ex, and sees she's now raising his young son. He tells her he's finally ready to take responsibility for his actions, and says he'll help in any way he can. And just like that, his demons disappear. Marlo meets with the hospital brass and admits she falsified the records. She's put on academic probation, and her demon vanishes as well. Finally Sophia finds the girl she bullied and apologizes to her, which immediately releases her from her repressed guilt.

And that's pretty much it! Once the Flatliners make amends to everyone, the hauntings and visions stop. The gang then meets in the bar again to celebrate. As they all toast themselves, the chords of Clair De Lune suddenly emanate from the bar's piano. They look at one another for a few seconds, then start laughing, as the camera pulls back and the movie sputters and wheezes to a stop. A few minutes later the audience wakes up, stretches and files out of the theater.

• There's little or nothing to say about this cine-turd, so this'll be mercifully brief.

• The biggest problem with Flatliners (both versions) is its silly core concept. The film concerns a group of med students who explore the afterlife by deliberately dying and coming back. For some reason this causes their past sins to take physical form and try to kill them.

Of course this entire notion is complete and utter bullsh*t, which makes it tough to take any of it seriously or care about anything that happens to the characters. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a movie, and suspension of disbelief and all that. But clinical death is a well known medical phenomenon. There's nothing supernatural about it. All the stories about seeing bright lights and watching your life pass before your eyes are just synapses firing uncontrollably as the brain slowly dies.

Thousands and thousands of people have experienced it over the years, and not a single one of them ever brought back a deadly physical manifestations of their deepest guilt. It's like saying that getting an x-ray gives you the power to walk through walls.

Instead of presenting the supernatural as a side effect of a well-known medical phenomenon, why not just make it a simple ghost story? Why not give us a young doctor who interns at an old hospital with a history, who's haunted by the ghosts of every patient that ever died there over the years? Now there's your movie!

• When Courtney's trying to convince the others to kill her in the name of science, she produces a letter she wrote that she claims will absolve them of all responsibility. Yeah, no. There's no way something like that would hold up in court. The exact same thing happens in the original film.

• Courtney performs the flatline experiment in an empty wing of the hospital, which she says was built to handle emergencies and natural disasters, but never used. She says they'll be safe because "no one ever comes down here." 

Later in the film the Flatliners are almost discovered by a cleaning crew. So which is it, Courtney? Does no one ever come down there or is it cleaned regularly?

• Virtually every movie and TV show ever made has depicted the use of defibrillator machines completely and utterly wrong.

We've all seen it a thousand times before. A patient's heart stops, and the Doctor calls for a crash cart. He activates the defibrillator machine, which emits an audible, high-pitched electronic whine as it powers up. The Doctor will then rub the defib paddles together a bit, place them on the patients's chest and shout, "CLEAR!" He then activates the paddles, and there's a loud "THUNK" as the patient's body stiffens, practically lifting off the table. The Doctor then glances at the heart monitor, looking for any sort of spike. He'll usually need to shock the patient a few more times before their heart finally resumes a normal rhythm.

NOTHING in that scenario is even remotely accurate.

When a patient's heart stops (or flatlines), it's called asystole (pronounced "a-sis-toll-ee"). As you might expect, that's a very bad thing. It's absolutely imperative that the Doctor get that heart beating again ASAP. To do that, they usually inject the patient's heart with a drug, often adrenalin. 

That usually starts the heart to beating again, but it'll be an arhythmic, chaotic beating. This is called "fibrillation," and it's just as bad as no beating at all. This is where the defib unit comes in. The Doctor uses the DEfibrillator to stop the Fibrillation, and hopefully get the heart beating at a normal rhythm again.

So contrary to popular belief, a defibrillator actually STOPS a person's heart. It doesn't jump start it like it's a car battery. You could shock a stopped heart from now until St. Swithin's Day, and it won't do one bit of good.

I was fully expecting Flatliners to continue this trope, and be filled with dozens of scenes of erroneous defib use. Imagine my surprise when the movie actually got it right! Wellllllll, almost.

In the movie, Jamie injects Courtney with a drug (sodium something?), and shocks her with the defib paddles, which stops her heart. PRAISE BE! At long, long last, someone FINALLY understands that the goddamned paddles STOP the heart, not START it! 

Once Courtney's out for a minute or two, Jamie starts CPR to get her heart beating again! Woohoo! Exactly like he should! Unfortunately things fall apart a bit after that. The CPR doesn't work (as is often the case in real life), so they inject a drug into her heart and immediately drag out the defib paddles and start shocking her. It's foggy as to whether she was in fibrillation or not. If she was, they never mentioned it.

Too bad. They came thisssssss close to getting it absolutely right. By the way, I recently rewatched the original 1990 Flatliners, and they did the exact same thing as this one, getting the defib process right up to the same point, before messing up.

Unfortunately things go completely off the rails during Courtney's final "death." None of the other Flatliners can seem to revive her, so they just grab the paddles and start shocking the ever-loving holy crap out of her, which eventually brings her back. 

Despite these minor glitches, I'm giving the movie credit for almost getting it right. Sure, they still goofed up the end of the procedure, but they got 90% of it right, which is 90% more than most movies do.

• The film's nonsensical premise is bad enough, but the ending is somehow even worse.

The Flatliners figure out that due to the experiment, their past sins have become solid and are physically attacking them (Courtney's even manages to kill her!). So how do the Flatliners defeat them? Do they whip up some sort of laser to fry the demons? Do they wave crosses in their faces to drive them back to the netherworld from whence they came? Do they change their addresses so the spirits can't track them down?

Nope! Instead, each of the Flatliners simply make amends for their past transgressions and forgive themselves, which causes their demons to evaporate (!). No, really! That's it! They literally defeat their sins with the power of pop psychology!

Forget Frankenstein's fear of fire, or Dracula's susceptibility to sunlight. These monsters can be killed by forgiveness! Jesus wept!

Flatliners 2017 is a pointless, shot-for-shot remake of a previous film that wasn't all that great to begin with. It's core premise is downright silly, as it attempts to graft a supernatural element onto a well known medical phenomenon, with predictably laughable results. Worst of all, it's not the least bit scary. But hey, at least they sort of understand how a defibrillator works! I give it a much deserved D+.

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