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Movie Review

What happens after we die? Theologians, philosophers and humanists alike have grappled with that question for ages.

But for Courtney, a first-year med student at a prestigious school, that question is more than academic. Nine years before, Courtney was driving with her little sister, Tessa. And she picked up her phone—just for a moment. But that was long enough. A moment later, their car was hurtling off a bridge into a river. A moment after that Courtney swam to the surface.

Tessa didn't have any more moments after that.

These days, Courtney seems like a typical med school student: smart, driven, confident. But guilt over her sister's death gnaws at her. And in her spare moments, Courtney obsesses about the afterlife, pouring over internet stories and reading near-death survivors' stories. And those dramatic narratives offer tantalizing hints to Courtney that something exists beyond this mortal coil.

And so she hatches a daring, reckless plan: maybe, just maybe if her med school friends can medically induce her death and then revive her, she can know for sure what happened to poor Tessa.

Of course, that's a hard sell to make to fellow med school students Jamie, Marlo, Sophie and Ray. So she pitches it like this: What if they conducted an MRI of her brain activity after she was technically dead. What if they could prove—scientifically prove—that something happens after we're supposedly gone.

Courtney talks them into it. After all, staying on the cutting edge of scientific research never comes without risk.

And so they kill her. Then bring her back to life.

Courtney comes back no worse for wear for having taken a short trip to the great beyond. (In Courtney's case, it involved a cosmic vision flying from her body, floating energy balls and a bridge.) In fact, death seems to have rebooted her brain: She suddenly has instant access to everything she ever studied, read, experienced, learned.

Not a bad skill for someone in med school.

Suddenly, her friends decide they'd like to try being dead, too, with Jamie, Marlo and Sophie "flatlining" in quick succession, each of them experiencing some benefits from a few minutes of being dead.

What Courtney failed to mention, however, is that she's also started experiencing some other things since her experience, too. Like hallucinations—or are they real?—involving her deceased sister.

And those visions are getting … worse.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the sections below.]

Positive Elements

Courtney's desire for answers to life's deepest questions is an understandable, indeed very human, one. Eventually, however, Courtney's friends acknowledge that they went too far trying to answer those questions, with one of them wisely acknowledging, "Some lines should not be crossed."

Once it becomes apparent that those who have flatlined are in mortal danger, they all work feverishly together to figure out a way to deal with what they've unwittingly unleashed.

Part of avoiding a grim fate involves taking responsibility for poor choices that each has made (which I'll talk about more in Spiritual Content). Jamie, who's quite promiscuous, feels guilty for getting someone pregnant years before, then not meeting her at an abortion clinic as he'd promised to do. Eventually, he finds the woman—who, it turns out, didn't have an abortion—and he commits to trying to be present in her and her young son's life. Marlo and Sophie likewise go to significant lengths to do everything possible to right wrongs they have committed in the past, too.

Spiritual Content

Each of the four people who die and are brought back have an after-death experience. Courtney zooms out of her body above the city and eventually ends up on a bridge where radiant balls of energy quietly rain down upon her.

Courtney's after-death experience is probably the most explicitly spiritual, as it's clear she's perhaps waiting to take a final step into a better place. Her experience of flying through the city also takes her through a Catholic church, where she flies right through a stained-glass window picturing Jesus.

The others' experiences aren't quite so positive. Jamie's experience begins with him happily riding a motorcycle, alone at first, and then with a young woman behind him. But things gradually get darker and the young woman disappears. Marlo, meanwhile, encounters a man in a dank warehouse whom she accidentally killed at the hospital for prescribing the wrong drug. Sophie recalls the many ways her demanding mother has driven her to perform, followed by memories of hacking into another rival's phone at school and sharing explicit pictures of her.

As the movie progresses, each person is haunted by what they've witnessed beyond the grave, though to varying degrees. It's never quite clear whether these terrifying, hallucinatory visions are real or products of changes in their post-death brains. (Though in several scenes, the damage inflicted by these visions is most certainly real.)

Just when it seems that the film is going to go full haunted-spirit horror movie, though, Flatliners takes a surprising turn: The friends realize that each of their visions has to do with a mistake they've made that they still feel guilty about. In order to do deal with their guilt, they must do several things: admit what they did, take responsibility for themselves and "forgive themselves." In so doing, the film morphs unexpectedly into a story about the importance of forgiveness and redemption, though there's no conversation about the role that God might play in granting that forgiveness and redemption.

Another reference to Jesus is a joking one. Jamie comes back from the dead with significantly enhanced abilities to understand what's wrong with his patients. (Similar to Courtney.) He brags, "I'm Jesus. Everyone I touch today, I'm gonna heal." Ray quips, "See you later, Jesus." Two hospital names are also obviously Christian-inspired: Trinity Emmanuel Medical Center and Holy Cross.

The friends compare notes about their visions and wonder what's going on, with one of them suggesting that perhaps they're being harassed by demonic entities. Each person's spiritual harasser causes poltergeist-like occurrences: appearing then disappearing, opening doors, making crying baby noises (in Jamie's case), speaking through radios and cell phones, causing things to fall, writing the word "MURDERER" in blood (in Marlo's case).

During Sophie's death, it looks as though they're not going to be able to revive her. Marlo pleads, "Please, God, bring her back." Ray replies sarcastically, "I'm sure that's gonna bring her back." Someone wonders, "What if our sins are coming for us?" Someone else reads an article with a title that references death and reincarnation. We see Courtney reading an article online titled, "The Afterlife and It's Mysteries."

Sexual Content

Courtney suggestively tells Jamie to meet her in the basement of the hospital, which certainly seems like an invitation for a casual hookup. Jamie's game, but what she's really invited him to do is to help kill her. (Jamie's momentarily upset that he's not going to get to have sex with Courtney after all). After she's revived from her death experience, Courtney says, "Honestly, it was kind of sexual." Later Courtney and Jamie kiss passionately, but they never go any further.

Jamie and Sophie do have sex, however, in a scene that avoids nudity but depicts explicit movements and noises. Sophie's mother hears them and tells them to stop, leading to a tense conversation when the pair comes out of her room.

As mentioned, Jamie impregnated a young woman years before and was planning to help her get an abortion. Several verbal allusions suggest that Jamie is still quite promiscuous. We see him in a shower (from the torso up) and shirtless as well.

Two other characters connect sexually, and we see them kiss and remove most of their clothes (no nudity is shown, though we do see a woman's bare back). Afterward, they're shown on a couch together, a sheet covering their unclothed bodies. (Most of the guy's torso is visible.)

Sophie's vision pictures the young woman whose illicit images she forwarded to her whole school. In them, she's topless, but covering her breasts with her hands. We see each of the three main female characters in their bras when they're taking their turn flatlining.

There's a med school prank referencing a testicular exam.

Violent Content

Courtney may have had the most "gentle" post-death experience. But what happens to her after she returns isn't gentle at all. She begins to be harried and haunted by someone in her house. Eventually, what seems to be the ghost of her extremely vengeful little sister, Tessa, chases her through her house.

One person falls from a great height and is killed. Another person gets stabbed through the hand by what seems like a spiritual entity. Marlo has multiple horrifying encounters with the man she failed to save, whose face was badly disfigured after he was attacked by a jellyfish. Those encounters are so horrifying that she actually tries to commit suicide by drowning herself—in her post-death experience. (What happens when you kill yourself after you've already allowed your friends to kill you? The film doesn't answer.)

Twice, we witness the car accident that took little Tessa's life. And Courtney has a disturbing vision of her dead sister floating in a car full of water. Marlo drives recklessly through town as she has a vision of her assailant trying to suffocate her with a plastic bag over her head. Most of the flatlining, post-death scenes involve dark and foreboding environments and numerous jump scenes.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word. Seven s-words. God's name is misused about 10 times, including at least two pairings with"d--n." Jesus' name is abused four times. We hear "h---" five times. And there's a single use each of "a--," "a--hole," "d--k," "b--ch" and "slut." We see one crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Several scenes picture characters drinking various alcoholic beverages, including doing shots together at a bar and at a fairly wild party at Courtney's apartment.

We also hear references to various prescription drugs, including Ativan, Adderall and Propofol. Jamie casually jokes about getting prescription meds from other med school students who steal them.

Jamie admits he once tried LSD, and he says he was awake for three days afterward. He also uses the drug phrase "bad trip" to describe the darker elements of what some of his friends experience while they're dead.

The procedure to kill and revive each person involves drugs, defibrillators, intubation, chest compressions and injections. We see it five times. The camera focuses on one injection in particular, as Ray shoves a huge needle into one of the women's chest, frantically trying to revive her.

The post-death experience of most participants is so euphoric that one of them suggests that they "bottle flatlining and sell it as a club drug."

Other Negative Elements

Medical school is depicted as a competitive, cutthroat environment that taxes students terribly. So much so that it doesn't take much, really, for Courtney to convince her friends to participate in her after-death experiment in the name of science.

Conclusion

This reboot of the 1990 movie of the same name starring Kiefer Sutherland (who has a cameo role here, too) and Julia Roberts is, shall we say, an odd kettle of fish.

The first two-thirds of the film dutifully follow the well-worn template for this genre: arrogant and reckless characters make tragic decisions that unleash nightmarish consequences upon almost all of them. (Only Ray, who's not crazy about the idea of dying for science, declines the group's flatlining experience.)

Along the way, things go from promising to grim to downright scary, with the film itself lurching from science-y thriller to supernatural horror. We also see a couple of PG-13 sex scenes and a fair bit of harsh profanity, too.

Then something unexpected and weird—in a good way—happens: the movie addresses some genuine spiritual issues. No, it doesn't ever give any kind of real answer about what happens after death. Still, by film's end, each of the surviving characters realizes that they've got to take responsibility for bad things they've done, which requires honest confession and asking for others' forgiveness. And they have to accept that forgiveness themselves, too, if they want to be free of the haunting specter of past choices.

So at the end of a what is otherwise a rote PG-13 thriller/horror film, viewers are left with some significant spiritual themes to ponder. Then again, it's probably not necessary to sit through said rote film in order to grapple with those important themes ourselves.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Ellen Page as Courtney; Diego Luna as Ray; Nina Dobrev as Marlo; James Norton as Jamie; Kiersey Clemons as Sophia; Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Barry Wolfson; Madison Brydges as Tessa; Anna Arden as Alicia; Jacob Soley as Alex; Miguel Anthony as Cyrus Gudgeon; Jenny Raven as Irina Wong; Wendy Raquel Robinson as Sophia's Mother

Director

Niels Arden Oplev ( )

Distributor

Columbia Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 29, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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