“Is it a sequel or a remake?”

That’s the question everyone asks when a studio revisits an established property, especially when that property is a horror film. That has been an especially vexing question with regard to the upcoming ‘Flatliners’, a follow-up to the 1990 film of the same name. The question seemed to have been answered when news broke that Kiefer Sutherland – who starred in the original film – had joined the cast. However, eagle-eyed fans were quick to point out that his character apparently has a different name in the new film.

Director Niels Arden Oplev has continued to play coy about exactly what Sutherland’s role in the film is. But while he might stop short of saying that Sutherland is reprising his original role, the director has made no bones about the fact that his involvement is intended to provide a form of connective tissue between the two films. And it’s not merely Sutherland’s presence that is meant to tie Oplev’s ‘Flatliners’ to the original, as the director has explained that there is a deleted scene with Sutherland that served to more explicitly link the films:

“So there’s actually a scene that I left out –  that there was no room for at the end of the film – where Kiefer tells them a really weird story about death. And it will appear on the extra material on the DVD, and for the older audience that’s going to be quite a clue. It’s a two minute monologue and a story about a famous doctor whose godfather is death. And they’re just sitting there, “What the fuck is he talking about?!” But for the young audience it was totally confusing; whereas for the older audience they were like, “A ha!” So we could not please both sides.”

Oplev also offered some characteristically vague remarks on the nature of Sutherland’s role in the film:

“Kiefer’s role is very cool as their professor, and for the older audience that remembers the old film, they’re like, “What does he know, what does he not know?” for me it’s mostly an element of paying an homage to the old film, saying that we acknowledge our inheritance. We are standing on shoulders. We are reinterpreting something that was done before. But also, we had to acknowledge for the younger audience, under twenty-five, they have no clue about the old film and that Kiefer had a role in it, because they don’t know about the old film!”

What’s interesting to me is not so much that Oplev hedges when it comes to discussing Sutherland’s character and his presumed connection to the original ‘Flatliners’, but rather the way in which he does so. He almost comes across as though he wants to explicitly link both films, but is hesitant to do so for fear that younger viewers might not be familiar with the original. Granted ‘Flatliners’ may have lapsed into relative obscurity over the years, but that would seem to give audiences less credit than they deserve. Of course, that’s just the impression I get from his comments. We’ll have to actually see the film and wait for any statements Oplev might make when he no longer has to worry about prematurely revealing plot details in order to see if there’s any truth to that.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, ‘Flatliners’ is due to arrive in theaters on September 29, 2017. The film stars Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Beau Mirchoff, and Kiefer Sutherland.