In Columbia Pictures’ new suspense thriller Flatliners, five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife.
But as their experiments become increasingly perilous, they are each haunted by the sins of their pasts, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.
“Flatliners is a journey into the unknown – the last unknown, you could say,” says director Niels Arden Oplev, best known for his work as the director of the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the pilot of the acclaimed series Mr. Robot. “It’s an outrageous subject, to travel beyond death and have your friends try to bring you back, to explore what’s on the other side.”
What could convince anyone to try something so dangerous? What else but the promise of groundbreaking – and fame-making – results. “Imagine if they found the proof they were looking for: it would be the greatest medical discovery of the century,” says Oplev. “Courtney, played by Ellen Page, appeals to the pressure the other students feel in a cutthroat environment. As one character says: this is not a medical school that is educating country doctors – they are there to push the dial on human knowledge.”
What the medical students find is something they did not expect: having flatlined and faced death, they not only experience what the afterlife might be like – they come back better. “By traveling to the kingdom of death, they come back with enhanced abilities,” says Oplev. “They’re trying to shortcut themselves to greatness. But there’s a bill to be paid for doing that.”
“They’re confronted with elements from earlier in their lives that they’re not proud of,” adds Oplev. “In essence, they come to a new realization of who they really are.”
It was important to Oplev to create a film that stood on its own and spoke to contemporary audiences.
“Of course, it’s a thrilling entertainment, but the subject also has built-in depth to it. We could create a film that has all the good tension and entertainment of a thriller, but also depth, credibility and realism. That’s why I was drawn to this project,” says Oplev.
One way that Oplev would ground the thriller was with a commitment to realism. “Flatliners has supernatural elements with fun and scary stuff, but within that, I wanted it to be totally believable,” says Oplev. “When they flatline for the first time, I wanted you to 100% believe that it was really happening.”
Even more importantly, Oplev would ground the film with the strong characters, says Safran. “We wanted to strongly establish the characters early on so that when they experience the supernatural phenomena that occur after they have flatlined, you’re seeing it all through their eyes: you know what they’re going through, you know what they’ve experienced in life, and now you fear for them.”
Flatliners is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, from a screenplay by Ben Ripley, story by Peter Filardi.
In Philippine cinemas Friday, September 29, Flatliners is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.