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‘Flatliners’ review: Horror flick remake falls flat

Ellen Page is dying to try out her

Ellen Page is dying to try out her idea in "Flatliners." Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures / Michael Gibson

PLOT A medical student’s plan to induce temporary death and experience the afterlife has unintended consequences.

CAST Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Kiersey Clemons

RATED PG-13 (gruesome imagery, sexuality)

LENGTH 1:48

BOTTOM LINE A lifeless remake of the 1990 cult favorite.

“Flatliners,” Joel Schumacher’s horror film about medical students who voluntarily stop their hearts in the hopes of glimpsing the afterlife, was largely dismissed as stylish nonsense on its release in 1990. In hindsight, though, the movie seems like a fitting tombstone for the 1980s, a kind of yuppie Gothic whose quasi-Brat Pack cast, including Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon, looked as sexy dead as alive. What the movie lacked in plausibility it made up for with creepy visuals, a seductive atmosphere and the occasional touch of sick humor.

Nearly 30 years later, a remake of “Flatliners” has arrived in theaters. It doesn’t have nearly as good a cast, nor does director Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) show anything like Schumacher’s sense of style. Where the original film was at least distinctive — “Altered States” meets “St. Elmo’s Fire,” maybe — the low-aiming remake feels like just another generic horror flick.

The story, originally by Peter Filardi (the new screenplay is by Ben Ripley), is more or less the same. “Flatliners” is still set in a medical school (unnamed) where one bold student, Courtney (Ellen Page), comes up with a terrible, irresistible idea: die for one minute, come back to life with a defibrillator and report on her experience. (She’ll record her brain activity using an MRI; in 1990 all they had was a home video camera). Not only does the plan work, Courtney rises from the dead with unlimited energy, a photographic memory and the ability to play Debussy on piano.

Suddenly, her colleagues want to climb onto the table, too: the cocky Jamie (James Norton), the workaholic Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and the hypercompetitive Marlo (Nina Dobrev). What they encounter in the afterlife, however, are the specters of people they have hurt, ruined or even killed. As these ghosts begin to haunt them during waking hours, only the group’s sole naysayer, Ray (Diego Luna), maintains his equilibrium.

The original film had a sense of poetry, romance and awe — in a shallow way, to be sure, but at least it was there. The new version has slow pacing, low-key scares and predictable twists. Sutherland takes a small role here as an imperious doctor, a fond nod to his old role. That, however, only reminds us of everything this movie is missing.

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