Some people get upset about the Star Wars special editions. Others take umbrage at remakes of classic horror films. Me? As I discovered this morning, I get upset over reboots of 1990’s Joel Schumacher thrillers. Like Flatliners.
The trailer for the film, which features a pretty impressive cast led by Ellen Page and Rogue One’s Diego Luna, was released this morning. And it features everything you’d expect from a movie about medical students that decide to kill themselves in the name of science only to discover that they can bring their sins back with them in physical form. There’s creepy scare beats. Cacophonous, orchestral music cues. It has blandly attractive actors like James Norton saying things like, “I didn’t know the side effects would show up and start hunting us down.” And it looks great, too, with clean, stylish photography — exactly what you’d expect from director Niels Arden Oplev, who previously made the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
But for me, and probably at least one other person, the original Flatliners was a seminal piece of 1990s filmmaking. It featured a mind-boggling cast of soon-to-be superstars, including Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and William Baldwin. (Okay, not all of them ended up stars.) It was directed by Joel Schumacher, fresh off The Lost Boys and St. Elmo’s Fire, and well before Batman Forever and Batman & Robin would ruin everything for everyone. The movie’s self-serious tone was perfect for the angsty decade that was to come — and oh, the way it looked. Flatliners had style for days, with the medical students working in some insane gothic horror show of a school filled with domineering statues and neon lighting for no reason whatsoever. It was like the coolest goth club you could never get into, only in movie form.
And so now I sit here, watching this new trailer — and sure, it’s the same premise as Flatliners. Page’s performance appears to be as fantastic as always. And as my colleague Chris Plante pointed out, it nails the ‘90s thriller vibe; I’d put it somewhere between Final Destination and I Know What You Did Last Semester In Medical School. But that’s never what made the original movie so appealing. The first Flatliners was wonderful because, flawed and ludicrous as it was, it nevertheless felt elevated and exotic to 15-year-old me. Stylish and bold, it was happy to traffic in cheap scares and cheaper melodrama even while it earnestly tried to tackle real themes like guilt and shame. You can call it High School Insecurities: The Movie, and you’d probably be right, but that didn’t change the fact that it worked.
That’s not to say the new Flatliners can’t do the same for a new generation. It certainly could, and I’m sure if I’d seen the original for the first time at the age I’m at now, I would have a totally different take on the film. So perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. Or it could be that I just don’t see the big picture yet. Kiefer Sutherland will appear in the new film, making it more of a distant sequel than a true reboot, and perhaps his character returning will connect the two movies in a rewarding way that’s not evident at the moment.
Either way, it’s not fair to judge a movie based on its trailer, and I look forward to seeing what the new Flatliners has to offer when it opens on September 29th. But in the meantime, I’m glad I recently picked up the original on iTunes. Today’s a good day to die.