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Then v Now: Flatliners

2017: Five medical students, obsessed by what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods, each triggers a near-death experience - giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife.

1990: Five medical students experiment with "near death" experiences, until the dark consequences of past tragedies begin to jeopardize their lives.


Plot and Writing

While there are a few minor changes between the plots of both the 1990 Flatliners and the 2017 Flatliners they are incredibly similar in structure and arc. Beginning with a group of medical students wanting to go beyond death - for their own ends - and finding that when you do, you bring something back. While the film has these similarities, the new cast for the remake are a hotch potch of character traits from the original - probably in an attempt to separate itself from the term "remake". For the most part, it really doesn't make any difference to the story.

Peter Filardi is credited as writer for both of the films possibly explaining why the plots are so similar, while the 2017 version had a screenplay by Ben Ripley (Source Code). The writing in the 1990 film is stronger, but only with what we are given. Weirdly the 1990 film is a hair longer than the 2017 version, and while both the dialogue and characters are weaker, the 2017 film gives more backstory.

The arcing story for both films is that of redemption and forgiveness. It's nailed perfectly in the 1990 version, with the cast learning about themselves, forgiving themselves regression and asking to be forgiven by those they have *coughs* trespassed against. Sadly, the writing in the 2017 version has me firmly believing the cast only sought forgiveness to self serve and save their skin, not to grow or learn. Which is pretty (forgive me, but-) shitty. 

Which is better? Well, this one is a draw for plot, but the writing wins it for the 1990 version.

Film Making and Direction

Flatliners 1990 was directed by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys). He has a defined style and uses flamboyant camera work. The direction is excellent, and the camera work is fluid. There is a definite gothic style to the whole film, and some clever use of practical effects and camera trickery. In 2017 director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) uses CG pretty well, but tries to balance the look of the film in a more sterile, medical fashion. For some of the scenes it works surprisingly well, for some others not so much.

Which is better? Schumacher's gothic pairing with the film works far better as most of the film concentrates on the horror aspects. Oplev's direction really nails sterile.


We're a big fan of seeing actors breaking out in the field, so are not fazed by the initial lineups. Cast in 1990 were a collection of actors storming the scene over the previous eight or so years coming straight off of films like - Kiefer Sutherland (Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory), Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Kevin Bacon (Tremors), William Baldwin (Internal Affairs), and Oliver Platt (Working Girl). They carry a range of experience, but largely have some powerful performances behind them. Consequently, Sutherland, Roberts, and Bacon, give exceptional performances - particularly Roberts whose Rachel Mannus is played with layers of quiet guilt, and she gives a nuanced portrayal.

The cast of 2017 include Ellen Page (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Diego Luna (Star Wars: Rogue One), Nina Dobrev, (The Final Girls), Kiersey Clemons (Bad Neighbours 2), and James Norton (Black Mirror TV Series). While Page and Luna have long catalogs the rest of the cast have little in the way of big screen dramatic roles behind them, and performances suffer. At no point did I feel that Page was doing any more than phoning it in, and while Luna was good, I never felt any one stand out. It's also a horror film at it's heart, and horror should have range - Platt in 1990 gives a performance that swings from laugh out loud to dramatic serious. 2017 gives little to nothing in the range department.

Which is better? 1990 hands down.


Schumacher's Flatliners might be short on story, but there is a careful balance between science fiction and horror - with decent performances across the board, and some dramatic flair. Sadly the remake is pretty uninspiring, and worse, bland. There is nothing wrong with it, as such, however, it just seems to amble along. It's as if everyone, from director to writer to cast just phoned it in thinking that no one would like a "remake" anyway, which is a shame. The potential was there, and dare I say, the only talent I would suggest changing would be the director. Someone with something exciting to say - perhaps Mike Flanagan?

The better film is 1990's Flatliners, for nothing if not trying, with both acting and direction that is far superior.

The 2017 version just didn't try enough to be exciting, scary, or all that interesting. As I say - it's not a bad film.

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