★★ / ★★★★
The title of this horror-thriller is a direct critique of its second half, a complete nosedive from an interesting premise that starts off having a certain level of energy with potential to genuinely entertain had the screenplay been more willing to remain one step ahead of its viewers. Instead, “Flatliners,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, eventually relies on delivering the expected turns and predictable jolts that plague modern horror and supernatural thrillers. What results is a marginally passable, late-night cable movie.
When it touches upon the realities of being a student in medical school, the material commands intrigue. Perhaps the most engaging moments are instances where students must compete with one another. Just about every time a colleague provides an incorrect answer to a superior’s question, there is almost a sigh of relief from his or her peers. But when a correct answer is given, one can feel the dagger-like looks of jealousy or envy. The picture might have been stronger if there had been more scenes that anchored the more unbelievable aspects of the story.
The plot revolves around Courtney (Ellen Page), a medical student fixated on the possibility of an afterlife due to the death of her younger sister. To discover whether there really is an afterlife and experience how it is like, she decides to recruit two of her peers (Kiersey Clemons, James Norton) to help her with an experiment: stop her heart, wait for two minutes from the second she flatlines, and revive her. Naturally, things do not exactly go planned and so others (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev) must learn about the macabre experiment. The setup is more intriguing than the positive and negative repercussions of crossing to the other side.
It does not leave much to the imagination. On one level, there is generous utilization of special and visual effects. While not overdone, it might have been better from a storytelling point of view for the characters to describe what they had seen instead of showing us every bit of white light, floating orbs, and stylized images of whatever is around the city. A character recalling a memory is another way for us to connect with him or her; we are not simply invested in what is being recalled but also how it is done.
On another level, take notice of the script. Every character is written to vocalize his or her every thought. This characteristic is television-like, particularly in sitcoms where this strategy is almost always used due to the limited running time of thirty minutes. But this is no sitcom. As a result, the level of mystery does not fully take off and, perhaps most importantly, the second half drags. It got boring to the point where one could simply cut and paste so-called scares from other mediocre supernatural horror-thrillers and it would not have made a difference.
Written by Ben Ripley, “Flatliners” might have been jolted to life with an injection of imagination. Many people are curious about the afterlife, or whether it exists in the first place, and so one would think that those in charge of the film would ensure that numerous possibilities are presented. One way to have done this is to have introduced different schools of philosophy, perhaps each character embodying one, and making the characterization cinematic. Instead, what results is a horror film without much flavor or ambition.