Flatliners [2017]

“What happens to us after we die? The only way to find out is to see for ourselves.”


Thanks to all the WATCHERS who joined me for the January watch party of this little gem. We had such a lot of fun and banter-galore!

So this film is both a remake and sequel to the 1990 film of the same name, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and stars Elliot Page, Diego Luna (of Y tu mamá también) and some other peeps!

First things first. If you’re coming into watching this thinking ‘wow Elliot Page? It’ll be a gem’, I gotta pre-warn you that this is not gonna be one of those films… I’m not one to usually suggest people don’t watch films. I think you’re an adult and can make up your own mind, but this one was pretty basic.

Medical student, Courtney (Page), is looking to crack the code behind what happens to your mind when you die and decides to rope in a couple fellow students. Page is hooked up to a neuroimaging machine, tells the two colleagues to stop Page’s heart and then resuscitate in 60 seconds. They begrudgingly do so after Page explains a waiver has been prepared and that they need not worry about repercussions. Page’s pals do the deed and Page survives. Then #hardpartayyyyy. Thus starting a cycle of subsequent students in the friend group trying the same, tensions around will they/won’t they save them from dying in time and then the group go into party mode. There’s a plot in there where all of the students who tried the experiment end up seeing what appears to be malevolent ghost but they don’t really address this until pretty much the end of the film but don’t worry they all learn something in the end…

Sooooo…. This film wasn’t what I was expecting. I love Page and he normally has a good track record for starring in at the minimum ‘average’ and at best ‘excellent’ films… I was really hoping that this ‘remake’ would extrapolate from the original – an already average film… maybe make it even better? But from all accounts that’s not the case. The scriptwriting was weak. I mean, I had a lot of fun watching it with all the fun WATCHERS and I don’t regret watching it, but had I watched it alone I think I would have thought it was a waste of time!

Erm so pretty big spoilers ahead: I really hoped, like a lot of the WATCHERS, that more of the sciency bits would have been expanded on. It felt like they threw in some well-known parts of the brain and said they flared up on the monitor, but didn’t really expand on that in any way when there was certainly opportunity. The budget for the film showed that they had money for a great deal of technology, the visuals and the soundscape (more on that later) were decent. Where it fell short was the reductive script… It seemed like jump scares for the sake of jump scares tied together with a few scientific terms and everything else was a footnote or an afterthought.

The experiences the characters had after death were so inconsistent that it didn’t seem believable. Some became haunted by people who had died (one at fault, the other not), others by living people who were apparently still on their mind and the take away is YOU GOTTA FORGIVE DUDEEEEE JUST FORGIVEEEEEEE. None of them had any redeemable characteristics. They all seemed like thoroughly terrible people from start to end. The main and supporting characters seemed two dimensional. There were two Black women/POC/BIPOC in the film which I was excited about and the script seemed to focus on at least one of them a little (Sophia), showing her to have a little dimension as a studious and anxious person… And THEN, following from her out-of-body experience, they have her fuck the shit out of one of her co-characters. Who doesn’t like a sexy scene? However, the choice they made for the only POC/BIPOC character to play that role, and the focal, uncomfortable and aggressive way it is done further builds on this hypersexualised stereotype in film that comes up time and time again that Black women are somewhat sexually deviant. This is further contrasted when we see a second sexually romantic relationship between two white people in the film but their sexual endeavour is portrayed in a gentle way. It creates this idea that Sophia is animalistic, fetishising something that is actually healthy. And then there is her mother figure, the only other POC character in the film who is desexualised and to me came off a bit like a mammy stereotype. They’re too pretty pervasive stereotypes in film so…

The only saving grace of the film is that the soundscape composed by Nathan Barr is pretty stellar.

So in conclusion, great soundtrack, very little storyline and pretty poor characters though fairly acted well despite what they were given! Jump scares actually made me jump even though I knew they were coming. That said, it felt like the film did neither the horror, nor the science fiction that well so… I personally wouldn’t recommend watching this. If you’re gonna watch any Flatliner, make it the original but listen to the 2017 film soundtrack so you get the best of both worlds! Also I still love you Elliot Page.

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Sci Fi London 2020 – Shorts (part 2 of 4)

SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 11-20.


EXISTE!

Directed by Luca Zuberbühler, this short film centres around the destruction of a small theatre. A construction worker enters the site, only to find an underground world beyond his imagination. Really pleasing blueish hue to the opening section to the film. I think it was probably the old timey-ness of the music and the degrading dusty buildings but it reminded me of playing Bioshock but it was a similar creep factor. Enjoyed it!

GUARDIAN ANGEL

Directed by Günter Heinzel, this short is more like a horror with a sci-fi edge. A man gets a whatsapp message from an unknown sender, telling him to leave or he will be killed (which he ignores). The messages get progressively scarier, after which he flees leaving his lover in bed. Nice twist to the end. I’m glad I wasn’t watching this in the dark. Classic tense horror soundtrack using plucking and screeching violins. I feel like a lot of people are writing about this particular topic at the moment though so I’m starting to get a bit unfazed by it, but I did enjoy this.

HYPERNOVA

Directed by Tate Young, this short film is about a woman struggling to connect. From the offset we see her going about normal chores, working and so on wearing a spacesuit, which seems to be a metaphor for this struggle. It’s as if she is all alone floating in space with nothing but stars, until she actually does connect with someone just like her which gives her the strength to break away. It seems more like a commentary on the human condition and a desire to be seen as you are, than being anything in particular about space though it is told through this metaphor. Nice little story. There’s very little dialogue but still that emotion and intention comes through. Enjoyed the ending.

IN ABSENTIA

Directed by Peter Chownsmith, this short animated film follows a man’s struggle to make sense of the surreal please he finds himself in. I like the style of animation, and the landscapes are pretty surreal. The sound effects paired to the action on screen are not what you would expect which adds to the weirdness of it. And there’s repeated references to the heart in this; there’s a hole in his chest where his heart should be, he finds himself climbing amongst what looks like tubes, and then he’s confronted with a massive red pyramid that is covered with either tendrils or veins… so there’s definitely something in there about the heart. Also I say he, but that’s not clear. It could be also a she or they. There’s no dialogue to know this either way. It’s only a three minute film but I really enjoyed the ambiguity of it and it was just well made.

LIVING THINGS

Directed by Tom Cozens, this short film is centred around a world fallen to disease. The narrator is supposedly the only being who is immune and he is trying to find something called “The Beacon” where he might find others like him. There’s always a ‘beacon’, isn’t there. People always need a hopeful monolith to gravitate towards… Anyway, when the disease hit, the protagonist was a child and he has to learn how to survive for himself, hunt and study into his adulthood, all alone. He tries his hand at growing sunflowers but the snowy conditions he is living in are not right and they all die. “Maybe miracles only look that way because there’s so much bad in the first place… but if miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be called miracles” he says. After hearing a yell out of the blue, he decides to leave the warmth and safety of the hut he has been staying in to once again find this ‘Beacon’. It’s a very endearing film, and even though through most of this story he is an adult man, it still has this childlike nature to it because we’ve seen him grow up and also because he interacts with nature like he’s in awe. The same way a child would, like they’re seeing something for the first time. Really enjoyed this. It’s not conclusive to us as viewers if he ever found another human again because we don’t see one. We just see his reaction to something but we’re not sure what that reaction means; I really like that ambiguity. Good stuff.

LOGAN LEE & THE RISE OF THE PURPLE DAWN

Directed by Raymond C. Lai, this short film is about a spliff called Purple Dawn and also about record scratching/hip hop! It centres around an DJ called Logan Lee who is in love with his best friend Beatrice. Beatrice is dating a douchebag who might be one of The Darkness, which is like this creepy alien species. It is built on sections that are introduced like a scratching tutorial. With the help of his mum, and weed, he takes on the beast who seems (like Venom) to dislike music! It’s a mix of They Live and ‘Harold & Kumar go to White Castle’ (basically a weed film lol). AMAZINGGGGGG FILMMMMM. I was blown away by how funny and colourful and interesting it was and I immediately told my bro about it. I really want to see it expanded. I think it could make a very popular feature film. Just wow.

M1DAS

Directed by Razan Takash, this short film is about AI. It’s filmed in UAE and the lead protagonist is a woman called Cybele. It opens on Cybele being instructed to lead on an AI project called M1DAS run by her company Ex Nihilo, which supposedly allows you to create a cyborg child. There’s no explanation but I’m guessing in this world, humans are no longer procreating(?) and the hardware was created because of that. Anyways, shortly after booting up the AI, Cybele is instructed to terminate the AI child who progressively matches to her look. Cybele decides to ignore her directive and save the child. The film has a super futuristic look and the ending is well done and pretty bleak. I was willing something else to happen and staring intently at the screen, but it never happened. Great short.

MOMENT

Directed by Geoffrey Uloth, this short follows the story of a homeless woman and her interactions with two masked crusaders. The woman is dating a drug dealer who tells her to carry some drugs for him because ‘women don’t get frisked by cops’. She’s jumped and attacked by three masked men. Just when one of them is about to hit her, time stops and the two masked crusaders who can astral project, talk the woman through combating these assholes so she is ready for it when time resumes. Both parties talk about their own individual struggles. There’s a chase scene which is really really good and the story is so emotive that I was moved to tears and cried buckets of mixed emotions all the way to the end. Could really see this being picked up by Marvel and being made into an origin story. Cool references to Star Trek. Excellent short.

MUSE

Directed by Azhur Saleem, this sci-fi/horror short follows the works of an artist in a technologically advanced world. The artist has recently been turned down by an art exhibitor who does not like the art, which depicts faces in various stages of terror. The police are called after screaming is heard and asked to see what the artist’s android has seen, like it is being used as a type of surveillance. The police realise that he is lying to them and a fight ensues. The ending has a really nice, super creepy twist. The look of the android seem very influenced by video game Detroit, which features android’s with a similar chip on the temple and similar premise (specifically around breaking their coding) so I enjoyed this dark short. Worth a watch.

NEXT TIME

Directed by Talia Shea Levin, this short follows a couple on a road trip across the United States. There is a hint to the theme of the film through the clicking timepiece which you can hear at various points in the film, if you didn’t get it from the title or the billboards… There’s obviously a tense-ness between the two characters. It seems that their relationship is coming to an end. They stop at at a Time Travelling depot which you can use if you deposit 10 cents, although there’s no way for you to control where or when you end up in history so it doesn’t seem that safe… I like the billboards on their journey that talk about TIME TRAVEL as if it’s a normal part of their reality, which say things like “You were there tomorrow, come back yesterday!” Apparently the journey through time is exactly what they needed because they stop fighting after that. Nice little short. Not really much to it but enjoyable.

Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. My particular faves from this lot were: ‘Logan Lee & The Rise of the Purple Dawn’ and ‘Moment’ which I really get picked up into full features films. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!

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Into the Forest [2015]

“We have each other”


‘Into the Forest’ is a Canadian film, somewhere between science fiction and horror-drama. It stars Elliot Page, Evan Rachel Wood and Callum Keith Rennie who are a family who find themselves in the middle of a continent-wide power outage which turns society on its head. There’s only really one sci fi element to the film in that it’s kind of a dystopian future type dealio, but the scenario is something that could very well happen and explores everything that can go wrong.

Society starts to lose its damn mind, like it is wont to do in the midst of a crisis, and the family are forced to retreat to their cabin in the woods hoping to wait the outage out. However, the situation turns from bad to worse to even worse(r?) and it’s almost like this little family are super cursed.

Page and Wood are very believable siblings; their love for each other is quite palpable on screen as they try to comfort one another while their world is falling apart through food scarcity and tragedy.

This is quite a heavy, dark film. There’s one particular moment where something happens and the camera focuses on Wood’s face. She acted it so well, and as a viewer watching her act it was like I was kicked in the chest. That scene is really powerful.

I thought generally it was a little slow, but I get the sense that this is necessary given the topic. The passage of time while you wait for normality to happen would probably feel like things are plodding on. I like that – SPOILERS – you never really know why it all happened in the first place, and you don’t really get a sense of closure with the film. You watch it just waiting for things to go back to normal but the family have to instead adapt to their ‘new normal’. It makes it seem more real somehow. Some similar films might end with “OH BTW IT WAS ALIENS” or “AND OMG IT TURNS OUT EVERYTHING WAS OKAY IN THE END” so this was a refreshing take at a different perspective.

So all in all, this film is really all about family, and how important your family are for your survival whatever shape that takes. The lush woodland was obviously totally stunning. I thought it was really well acted. The concept is a simple one but was explored thoroughly like the Director rinsed the shit out of it. I thought it was a decent film if maybe a bit slow, though I wasn’t ‘blown away’ by it. Worth a watch.

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