Flatliners may be a remake of a mostly forgotten Joel Schumacher film, but it’s a remake that does more than just recycle old ideas—it reimagines its central themes to make them relevant for a younger generation. The movie follows five brilliant medical students (Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons) as they study the dangerous frontier of brain activity immediately following death; they quickly turn themselves into test subjects, stopping their hearts and relying on the others to resuscitate them before it’s too late. At first, these experiences, which the group collectively dub “flatlining,” seem to give the students superhuman stamina and increased brain function. However, they soon realize that there is a dark side to their experiments, as they find themselves haunted by past failures and mistakes.
The science behind the film is predictably shaky—as is usually the case in stories that deal with concepts that are still mysterious to the medical community. But beneath its literal surface, the movie makes a lot of interesting points about the pressure to succeed (and the fear of failure) felt by many millennials. Each student is haunted by a past mistake, and they push themselves to their limits, both physically and mentally, in an attempt to transcend those mistakes…until they are finally forced to face up to their troubled pasts.
Director Niels Arden Oplev deals with these existential themes admirably, and the cast all give fine performances, but viewers expecting a pulse-pounding sci-fi horror film are likely to be disappointed. Still, for those who like their thrillers with a bit of a cerebral edge, Flatliners is a mostly satisfying ride and a welcome example of a remake that brings something new to the table.