Is this all there is to know about The Dying Game?|
by William Bibbiani, published on September 29, 2017 - 6:00 AM
What happens after we die? In the age of science and reason, it’s hard to accept old-fashioned ideas like walking around in the clouds and burning in fire and brimstone, but so far it’s been all but impossible to actually research the afterlife because, well, that’s what happens AFTER life. If we knew about it now we wouldn’t need to research it in the first place.
So the premise of Flatliners, both the original and the remake, is a smart one. A group of medical students, seeking both thrills and glory, kill each other and then immediately bring each other back to life. The near-death experiences give each of these students a new appreciation of their fleeting existence and also first-hand knowledge of what happens afterwards. And, since this is also a kind of horror movie, they also bring back deadly physical manifestations of their greatest shames.
The new Flatliners is a good movie until it tries to scare you, which to the film’s credit is quite a while. Niels Arden Oplev’s version of Flatliners takes its time introducing the characters and establishing med school as a high pressure environment that attracts all kinds -- the anxious and the cocky, the competitive and the obsessive -- and convincing the audience that these disparate people might actually think it’s a pretty good idea to die for science. Or even just for the hell of it.
And of course, the exploration of spiritual issues through scientific progress goes all the way back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and it’s just as intriguing and relevant as ever. Flatliners is at its best when it’s an old-fashioned sci-fi yarn, complete with headsets covered in little Christmas lights, dramatizing that thin line between actual science and so-called “mad science,” which is driven more by ambition and obsession than anything resembling common sense.
But about halfway through Flatliners, the Ghosts of Screw-Ups Past show up and the film devolves into a series of familiar horror movie clichés with ghosts in the background, creepy noises coming out of radios and tearful confessions into camera phones. The complex ideas that Flatliners introduced in the first half give way to a simplistic moral parable. It’s a preachy treatise on the importance of living morally in an increasingly atheistic world, in which the afterlife may not have a bouncer at the front door, checking to see if you were good enough to get your name on the list, but you should still try to be a good person anyway.
That’s a good message, no doubt about it, but it feels like an afterthought in a film that seemed to have more on its mind than that. The ensemble cast is game for anything, and sells every scene to the best of their ability (which is to say, some better than others), but they’re let down by a film that -- like the original -- cuts away the best parts of itself in order to satisfy an artificial need to be scary, instead of smart.
Flatliners had every opportunity to improve on the original, and it doesn’t take most of them. It falls flat as a horror movie but the cast is good enough, and the sci-fi concepts are interesting enough, to keep it from crashing completely.
5.0 out of 10.0 - Flatliners squanders its potential due to its embrace of horror movie cliches.