Friends in Deadly Places: ‘Flatliners’ and ‘It Chapter 2’

After experiencing a death, a small group of friends becomes involved in a supernatural entity’s world. The entity starts hunting them and killing them. Now, the group has to vanquish the entity before it gets rid of all of them.

Both Flatliners (2017) and It Chapter 2 (2019) have this plot. On top of that, both had previously been made for the screen before and have cameos from people involved in the previous film.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The Characters

This editorial will be organized based on characters and the roles they serve. These include:

  1. The Gatherer – The troubled person who gathers everybody together for a crazy idea.
  2. The Male and Female Lead – A Man and Woman who provide the dramatic and Romantic parts of the film. The audience is supposed to take their part of the story seriously. The Female Lead also provides the stakes of the story.
  3. The Odd Couple – a secondary couple who is played more for laughs. Their relationship never really develops as much as the heroes. Usually comprised of a partner who is overly reckless and one who is overly cautious.
  4. The Monster – a force that attacks our lead characters based on their past. They have to defeat it.
  5. The Martyr – somebody who dies in the story. Also provides the coda and moral at the end of the film.

Each of these characters have very similar stories in both films.

‘Flatliners’

A group of stressed out medical students decide to flatline (kill themselves for a few minutes before having other students resuscitate them). Through this method, they gain superpowers and gain access to parts of their brain that they have not had before. However, when their past demons start hunting them, they realize they must either face their past mistakes or be killed.

Original Source Material

Flatliners is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name, which was a surprise hit. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the original film starred many up-and-coming stars of the time, including Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Julia Roberts. The original has a grungier quality to it. The primarily operating locations are museums full of artifacts in the original. The remake has more sterile hospital settings.

Every character in the original has a counterpart in the remake, but it is not a perfect one to one comparison. For example, Bacon and Roberts serve as the original’s Romantic couple, but their past traumas correspond to different characters in the new version. The film also creates a cast that is more female (there are three women in the remake) and ethnically diverse than the original.

Many of the original cast and crew return for this film. Sutherland returns as Dr. Barry Wolfson, a senior medical professor with a different name. Original screenwriter Peter Filardi has a story credit and original producer Michael Douglas also returns to his producing role for this film.

Unlike the original film, the new film has upped the stakes considerably. When the characters flatline in the remake they gain supernatural mental powers, similar to Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014). When people flatline in the original, their old demons come back to humiliate them, rather than kill and maim them.  Each of these decisions adds higher stakes to the story.

The Film

Flatliners is directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Ben Ripley. Both were known to an international audience. Oplev had directed the acclaimed Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and episodes of the acclaimed series Mr. Robot (2015-2019). On the DVD, one of the featurettes focuses all about working with Oplev. Ripley had written the action film Source Code (2011).

The Gatherer and the Martyr: Courtney

In this case, the martyr and the gatherer are the same character: Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page). Courtney is haunted by her sister’s death in a car accident and wants to make contact with the dead. She becomes the first one to flatline as part of an “experiment.”

At the beginning of the film, Courtney tricks fellow students Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) into helping her flatline by appealing to their deepest desires. With the stressed-out Sophia, Courtney invites her to hang out and relax with an old friend. Courtney flirts with Jamie to get him to come down to the basement. When Jamie comes down and asks how they are going to have sex, Courtney tells Sophia that he must have misunderstood her intentions.

Halfway through the story, Courtney starts seeing her sister everywhere. One night, her sister chases her out onto the fire escape, shoving her off. Before she dies, Courtney leaves a recording on her phone admitting that the experiment was not scientific. Courtney only appears sporadically until the climax, in which she provides the moral of the story by telling the female lead to forgive herself. The film ends with a toast to her.

The Odd Couple

The odd couple are the reckless Jamie and the pressured Sophia. Both of their past demons relate to sexuality.

Reckless Jamie is a trust fund kid and a lady’s man. He often takes advantage of naïve younger female students and promptly forgets about them. After graduation, Jamie plans to move to Los Angeles and become the “Anderson Cooper of medicine.” Jamie impregnated Alicia (Anna Arden), a waitress at his father’s country club. He agreed to pay for an abortion but did not show up for it. The Baby and Alicia constantly appear to him in visions.

Everything related to Sophia has to do with pressure. Sophia’s mother has given her life savings to make sure she gets an education. Sophia’s critical character flaw relates to her feeling pressure and wanting to be the best. Jealous of another student’s GPA in high school, Sophia sent her naked pictures to the entire school. Now she must ask that former classmate for forgiveness.

Throughout the story, Jamie and Sophia are partnered together. While Jamie helps cater a benefit to meet a woman, Sophia is there to make money to pay for college. After Sophia flatlines, she has a craving for sex and ends up sleeping with him in her mother’s house. When Jamie leaves, Sophia announces that she is moving out. Jamie also accompanies her to meet with her old classmate, Irina Wong (Jenny Raven).

However, Jamie’s situation is something he has to face on his own. Jamie tracks down Alicia and finds that she has a son. With this new information, Jamie decides to take a residency in town and help take care of Alicia and her son.

The Male and Female Lead

In this film, The Male and Female leads are Ray (Diego Luna) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev). At the beginning of the story, they are competing to be one of the top students in their class.

Ray is a medical student who used to be a firefighter in Houston. He is the most knowledgeable of the group. Unlike the others, he refuses to flatline in the story and does not seem to have a deep dark secret hidden in his past. In this film, he is more of a love interest than a character with a full story.

Marlo is an overachiever. All of her visions relate to her horseback riding, playing the cello, and swimming competitively. At the beginning of the film, she is competing with Ray.

However, Marlo’s ambition also leads to her downfall. While working a 36-hour shift, Marlo accidentally killed a patient by mixing the wrong drugs together. In order to not be caught, she falsified the medical report. Both revelations relate to events in the Marlo and Ray’s relationship. When Marlo tells Ray about the death, it leads to them having sex for the first time. As Ray leaves the morning, he tells Marlo that he knows that she is a kind caring person. When Ray discovers the falsified report, he confronts Marlo about it, leading to them breaking up.

This journey of Marlo’s also provides the stakes and climax for the story. After being tortured by the man she killed long enough, she decides to flatline permanently. She has a vision of being drowned in water. It looks like Marlo is done for until Ray injects a shot into her heart and pleads for her to come back. Just then, Marlo has a vision of Courtney that makes her realize the importance of taking responsibility for oneself. Marlo wakes up from her vision to Ray and the gang. After taking responsibility for her actions, the university puts Marlo on probation. Marlo and Ray meet on a bridge and they throw Courtney’s laptop full of flatlining data in the water.

The Monster: Multiple

In the film, the students’ past demons often attack them in physical form. Oftentimes, this past demon is female.  Courtney has her little sister. Jamie has Alicia, a waitress at his father’s country club he impregnated. Sophia has Irina, the student whose nude images she sent out. The only person who does not have a female demon is Marlo, who accidentally killed a male patient.

In the original, the demons came back for multiple reasons. Only Sutherland’s character had a past demon that attacked him physically. Unlike the original source material, the demons have one function: to physically attack the lead characters of the story until they apologize and admit to their mistakes. Courtney’s sister shows up and throws her off the fire escape. Jamie’s Alicia stabs him in the hand. Marlo’s male patient puts a plastic bag over her head while she is driving. All of these choices are deadlier than the original.

It Chapter 2’

After defeating a monstrous creature in 1989, an old group of friends are called back to their home town to destroy the monster again in 2016. This creature primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the dancing clown, but also takes the forms of many people’s fears.

Original Source Material

It Chapter 2 comes from a large book by Stephen King that was originally published in 1986. It was adapted into a television miniseries in 1990. The film also serves as a sequel to the first It movie, which came out a few weeks before the Flatliners remake in 2017. In some reviews, critics compared the Flatliner demons to Pennywise, the monster in It.

The First Movie sets up the characters as kids but transposes the story to 1989 rather than the novel’s original childhood timeline of 1957 to 1958. In that film, the kids come together to form the losers club and defeat Pennywise, a mythical monster that has terrorized Derry for years. However, they also know that Pennywise returns every 27 years to hunt for new prey, which forces them to return.

One of the original experiences that inspired King to write the book was seeing a little girl talking about imaginary people by herself. King felt that if anybody saw an adult doing the same thing, they would haul them off to a mental institution. This inspired him to write a story about adults facing the same monster they faced when they were kids.

Both the TV miniseries and movies make one similar decision in adaptation. In the original novel, the story switches back and forth between the characters as adults and children. In the miniseries and movies, the story is split into two parts: the first part follows the kids, while the second part follows the adults. It Chapter 2 takes place sometime closer to 2016 than the novel’s original setting of 1985.

The Film

It Chapter 2 is very much a sequel to the first film. Both are directed by Andy Muschietti, produced by his sister Barbara, and written or co-written by Gary Dauberman. In the first film, every character is defined by very specific traits. One is a stutterer, one is fat, one is female, one is Jewish, one is African American, and so on. As adults, these differences are much less defined. The fat kid in the story loses weight and the stutterer gets better (although his stutter does occasionally come back in the second film).

At nearly a three-hour-long movie, it is split into three different parts, which are each about an hour long. The first hour consists of the characters arriving in town and learning about what has happened. The second hour has the group going on a scavenger hunt to find items from their past. The third hour is the climax and ending, which happens in a creepy house and an underground water system.  Throughout the film, there are many big and small changes to the source material. Specifically, the film chooses to substantially rewrite the ending, which the film admits is flawed in a metatextual way.

It Chapter 2 is a very knowing film as well. A character arc and recurring joke throughout the film is that author Bill Denbrough cannot write an ending. This is a joke about the real Stephen King and his set-ups being worse than his pay-offs. King shows up in a cameo as a store owner reading one of Bill’s books. Bill asks the owner if he wants him to autograph it. King says that he would not because he did not like the ending.

The Gatherer: Mike Hanlon

The sole African American member of the group, Mike Hanlon is the only member of the group who has stayed around town. After seeing multiple murders around town, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everybody together. In the original book and miniseries, Mike is injured and taken out of the action of the story before the climax. In the new form, Mike plays an integral role in the climax.

According to Mike, they can defeat It using the ritual of Chud, a ritual he claims native Americans used to defeat Pennywise eons ago. What he neglects to mention is that the ritual failed. Mike believes it is because they did not believe hard enough. Now they must find a new way to stop Pennywise before he kills them all.

The Male Lead(s): Bill and Ben

The film splits the male lead between two characters. Author Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) plays the dramatic male lead, while architect Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) serves as the romantic male lead. Bill grew up with a stutter, while Ben grew up fat. Both have remedied their conditions since then. Bill’s stuttering does return at a certain point in the story.

Bill’s story has to do with feeling guilty about the death of his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The first film follows Bill’s journey to find his brother into the sewers. In the second film, Bill’s character arc provides the event that leads to the climax. Bill learns that Pennywise plans to kill the kid who lives in his old. When Bill cannot save the kid, he decides to go after Pennywise by himself.

Ben has always loved the sole female member of the group, Beverly, who was the only girl to be nice to him in the first film.

The Female Lead: Beverly

Beverly Marsh is the sole female character of the group. She grew up with an abusive father who blamed her for her mother’s death. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) has gone on to marry and start a business with Tom (Will Beinbrink), an abusive possessive man who resembles her father.

Throughout the film, Beverly’s arc relates to her finding love with a new partner. Just like the first film, she kisses Bill. However, Bill is already married to an actress (Jess Weixler) and the early story does not indicate that they have an unfulfilling or bad relationship. Beverly’s relationship is with Ben, who admires her from afar, even as an adult. While Ben has kept a page of his yearbook that Beverly signed, Ben has kept a postcard that Ben wrote her. They reconnect over the postcard. In a gender reversal of the Flatliners scene, Beverly tells Ben about the boy she knew growing up and how he made her feel.

In the climax, Pennywise creates an illusion where he buries both Ben and Beverly. Pennywise traps Ben in an underground fort he built as a kid and gets buried in dirt. Beverly gets placed in a Bathroom stall that fills up with blood. Multiple abusive people from her past burst through the stall door to yell at her. Ben and Beverly save each other by calling out each other’s name and hearing each other.

Beverly also provides the stakes of the story. Since she is the only one to be possessed by Pennywise, she sees visions of a horrifying future. She knows that if they do not defeat Pennywise this time, they will not live long enough to fight him again.

The Odd Couple

The Comedy Couple consists of comedian Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) and hypochondriac Eddie Kasperk (James Ransone). They provide the comedy relief from the dramatic storyline but also represent a relationship not set up by the main cast.

In the first film, Richie is the jokester of the group, who is ironically afraid of clowns. Since the first film, Richie has become a successful stand-up comedian. The only bit we hear is Richie telling a story about getting caught masturbating by his girlfriend and going to masturbators’ anonymous.

The first film details Eddie growing up with an overprotective mother (Molly Atkinson). He is terrified of germs and many dangerous situations. At the beginning of the second film, Eddie has grown up to become a hypochondriac and successful risk analysist. He is married to Myra, a woman who looks and sounds similar to his domineering mother (Also played by Atkinson).

The second film reveals Richie to be a closeted homosexual and attracted to Eddie. Insecure about his sexuality, he masks it with jokes. While there is subtext of this in the book, the film makes it more explicit.

At the end of Chapter 2, Eddie is killed by Pennywise after he attacks him with a spear. When Eddie dies at the end of the story, it hits Richie the hardest. He acts in denial when told that they cannot get Eddie out of the cave. The last scene of the film with Richie has him carving his and Eddie’s initials into the fence of a bridge.

The Monster: Pennywise

Although the creature in the film takes many films, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is the most common. In DVD documentary, director Andy Muschietti says that the performance is both innocent and menacing.

The novel has Pennywise wanting to scare the adults off. In the second movie, Pennywise wants the adults back so he can terrorize and kill them.

When the ritual of Chud fails and Eddie dies, the Losers Club realizes that they have to make Pennywise small. They do this by bullying Pennywise down to the size of a child (a child with a Pennywise mask acted part of the role in the climax). Mike then reaches in and pulls out his heart.

The Martyr: Stanley Uris

In the first film, Stanley is the group’s sole Jewish member. The first film has Stanley getting chewed on briefly by Pennywise and having marks on his face.

At the beginning of the second film, Stanley (Andy Bean) does a puzzle while his wife books an exotic vacation. They both seem perfectly happy. When Stanley gets the call from Mike, he goes upstairs and slits his wrists. This is consistent with the novel and miniseries.

Throughout the film, Stanley serves as an orator for the message of the movie. A flashback to Stanley’s Bar Mitzvah has him pondering what it means to grow up and moving on from bad experiences and memories. His speech plays over various scenes of the Losers’ Club as kids. In a change from the novel, Stanley writes a letter to each member of the Losers club explaining the reason for his decision. He decided to it because he felt that he would not be able to face it with the group, so “he took himself off the table.” His letter provides the final coda and moral of the film.

Observations

Flatliners and It Chapter 2 both have very similar structures. That changes the story is what the characters have to confront and do. In Flatliners, everybody is much more culpable for their demons than in It Chapter 2.

The first act has the characters getting drawn into a deadly situation. In Flatliners, it is by choice. Every one of the students has a motive for trying flatlining because it taps into parts of their brains that they do not use. In It Chapter 2, it is by obligation. Everybody is forced to come back because they have to stop the creature.

The second act has all the characters examining their past and getting attacked by it. Each character spends the second act confronting their demons. In Flatliners, the characters must face the people they hurt in order to make their demons go away. It Chapter 2’s demons will keep following the characters around until they defeat Pennywise.

The climax is much less drawn out in Flatliners. It Chapter 2 is the climax that everybody’s nightmare reveals everybody’s nightmare. Every character has to face their deepest fears in physical form. In Flatliners, the nightmare needs to be resolved is Marlo’s.

Both end on a moral, but the moral changes. Flatliners is about people taking responsibility for their past and moving on, while It Chapter 2 is about living life to the fullest. Flatliners has Marlo delivering the moral she learned from Courtney in voiceover. In It Chapter 2, the voiceover of the moral begins with the deceased Stanley’s narration before switching to the rest of the cast.

Conclusion

Both films follow a group of friends brought together by a common trauma. In both cases, the adults in the story have specific roles in the story that defines their character. What changes between the two stories is the moral and idea presented.