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The basic premise of Flatliners is fairly simple. Several medical
students put themselves at the point of death in order to find out
exactly what the brain does during the fact. It sounds like something a
mob of bored students would do for a joke, but it forms the basis of
some very creepy substories. In today's world, where Hollywood has to
mine foreign markets for the ideas to make a horror film, Flatliners is
one of those rare gems that show Hollywood can make something different
when it tries hard enough.
What separates Flatliners from a lot of films based on this premise that would come out today is that it does not stoop to being condescending or arrogant. Flatliners recognises that people go to films to be entertained, not moralised to. In this kind of supernatural thriller, the difference this restraint makes is really incredible. What's even more incredible is that Julia Roberts appears without being annoying or demonstrating that she can only play Julia Roberts. The theory of obscurity, that performing artists do their best work with the smallest audience, is in force here.
The subplots concerning what the characters find during their loss of pretty much everything that makes them alive, and how it comes back to intrude on their present time, are done surprisingly well. The moments when William Baldwin's character finds his personal videotape collection coming back to haunt him are especially intriguing. That William Baldwin seems so perfectly cast in the role says a lot either about the script or the direction. I am not sure which.
Kiefer Sutherland, on the other hand, really shines as the lead. One really feels for him as the mystery of what past experience is intruding on the present and why unfolds. As Kevin Bacon's character goes to find an old school pier whose life he made hell and tell her how sorry he is, it becomes clearer what the film is about. We can try to change the past as much as we like, but it's what we do with the present that matters most.
Another good aspect of Flatliners is how it achieves an atmosphere without the use of expensive, elaborate visual effects. Quite unusually for what is essentially a horror film, Flatliners did not expend its budget in places where it did not need to. Much of what we see during the more surreal sequences is a case of professional pretending, simple trick photography, or stock footage. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
If there is a problem with the film, it's that it feels about ten minutes too short. The ending seems more perfunctory than conclusive, as if someone in the studio asked the director to wrap the film up so they can bring it out at a certain market time. Of course, many films have been left with sore spots for this very reason, so Flatliners shouldn't really need to be any different. The hundred and fifteen minutes we do get is highly satisfactory, though not overly brilliant.
I gave Flatliners a seven out of ten. It works well as a date flick or a kind of late-night popcorn film. That aside, it makes a good reminder that low-budget horror shows weren't always sad pieces of garbage.
I've been intending to write a review of this film for some time, but only
now have I actually managed to get my thoughts down for the perusal of
I never had the pleasure of seeing this film on the `big screen' which is a shame, as it is often visually stunning, but I have revisited it on video numerous times over the years, enjoying it immensely every time. It definitely is on my personal list of favorite movies, and for more than just starring Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon, two of my `actors to watch.'
Perhaps I appreciate this film so much because it appeals to my slightly off-kilter taste in entertainment. I like my movies a bit left of center - unpredictable and fresh. And whether or not you `believe' the story line of the film, you have to admit, it is different!
Everyone has different tastes and opinions, but my impression of some of the negative reviews of this movie is that the viewers never really saw past the surface level of this film. They got caught up in technicalities, `Why would there be green lighting in a subway?' or `Why would medical students pull such a stupid stunt?' and failed to see the artistry and psychological depth of the piece.
Yes, there are some medical and technical aspects that do not make logical sense, but if you are willing to suspend disbelief just a tad, this can be a very engaging film.
First, a note about the artistic quality of the movie. Some have complained about the murky lighting, and the illogical nature of the sets - but for me, the use of innovating lighting techniques, the plastic and sheet draped sets, the unusual settings in old buildings and dank, dripping tunnels, the use of statuary, rain and billowing curtains - all add a poetic flavor to this film, a haunting beauty that suits the dark nature of the questions being asked about life, death and forgiveness.
I will focus on just two examples; in an alley scene, a change in lighting allows for certain elements of the set to come dramatically into focus, then to fade away once lighting returns to normal. It is an innovative means of conveying a shift in the `reality' of the moment, and works beautifully. We are also allowed to see the interior of the character's apartments - contrast the warm wood, bright colors, golden lighting and cluttered comfort of Labraccio's rooms with the stark, white void of Nelson's. Both are reflective of the characters themselves. Nelson's lack of `objects' reflect our lack of knowledge about his past. and his carefully constructed mask that keeps his companions at a distance. His past, we come to learn, is one of chaos and conflict. He has determined to leave that behind in favor of an uncluttered emptiness. unfortunately, the emptiness is also reflective of his relationships with others, a realization he comes to along his personal journey of self-discovery in this film.
Flatliners is not your typical horror film. Nor is a typical drama or suspense movie.it is rather more of an amalgamation of all, having the best elements of all genres intertwined in a complex, suspenseful plot.
This is an ensemble piece, and the cast does an excellent job of breathing life into their individual characters. Your immediate impression is that the characters are each representative of a well-established `stereotype': The female ice queen, the slightly neurotic 'physician', the playboy and the socially conscious `nice guy' etc. However, as the film progresses and the characters are further fleshed out, they take on multiple dimensions and depth.
Most interesting of all is Sutherland's character of Nelson. Nelson is not a character that is easy to like - indeed he is a bit of a b**tard, a master manipulator who definitely places self-interest above all else. Yet, Sutherland plays him with a hint of insecurity that lends him a certain appeal. As events unfold, you come to realize that much of Nelson's unpleasant personality is a smokescreen, a protective mask behind which hides a very uncertain and vulnerable young man burdened by a terrible secret.
By revealing bits and pieces of Nelson's complex personality throughout the film, the writers, directors and cast gradually lead you towards a greater understanding of and sympathy for him. The character who started out as a `jerk' becomes important and valued in his own right - as you learn to `forgive' his previous behavior in light of new information. Your journey of discovery with Nelson reflects the characters own journeys towards self-understanding, as they too come to realize that everyone has value, and `everything we do matters.'
Which leads to my final comment. Although many of the posters here have picked up upon the theme of defying death.. few seem to have touched upon what I see as the main premise of the movie - the importance of forgiveness, and the need to be cognizant of all you do, because it does `matter.'
When I first watched Flatliners, I was amazed. It had all the necessary
features of a good movie: the cast was superb, the plot was superb, and
in the case of thrillers, there was genuine "thrills" throughout.
Keifer Sutherland offered a marvelous performance as the male lead in the piece, portraying a scientist who believes he can find the answers to life and death by killing himself and then coming back to life, essentially "stealing" death's secrets away. Kevin Bacon offers an excellent performance as the more morally decent counterpart to Keifer, while Julia Roberts offers her most convincing role. William Baldwin portrays a student who excels in class and, apparently, intercourse. And Oliver Platt, in another outstanding performance, portrays the voice of reason for the group and the most innocent.
The story is relatively simple, yet original, and the acting is refreshing-- definitely a stand out film for the genre, and one that has set the standard for measuring other thrillers for me.
Flatliners has all the ingredients of a good Joel Schumacher film -
intelligent, youthful characters, stunning cinematography, a gripping story,
and excellent performances. It's escapist fun but it's done very well and
resonates with a positive spiritual message despite the unnerving
Schumacher has a knack for spotting talented young actors, and all of the main five here have gone on to greater things (see the cast list). Their believable performances help to raise this movie well above average. Kiefer Sutherland shines in his egotistical med-student role.
The cinematography really stimulates the right side of the brain, which is what I love about Schumacher; his use of light and location create images that stick. A disturbing nightmarish atmosphere is created which unsettles you while you watch the film and haunts you when you go to bed - reminded me of The Lost Boys.
This is a film that takes an awesome premise - curious students want to find out what's after death, and successfully follows it through into a scary, gripping tale of redemption. One of Schumacher's best; highly recommended.
I recall seeing this movie three times, first in the early 90s, then
00s and now I just saw it again and each time I've grown more fond of
it. There is something in Schumachers style that drags me into it. The
story is OK, nothing really remarkable. It's one part ghost story, one
part medical thriller, one part love triangle.
What really makes this movie worthwhile is Schumachers direction. He's got a very good eye for this Gothic style. One might wonder why the school was so poorly lit, or what exactly was the place they did their experiments at, but it's all for the mood, it's all style. Sometimes style does go over substance, but in this case they work hand in hand. The Gothic architecture and gloomy late autumnal Chicago are just what this movie needed. Just like The Lost Boys IS small town sunny California. Schumacher should've stuck to this style which clearly is his forte, but sadly he has since had a very varying career with only occasional hits.
The cast is great, all of the stars have gone a long way since. Makes one only wonder what could've become of William Baldwin had he made better career moves. He is very good in this movie. I've always liked Kiefer Sutherland as a movie actor, and he does a remarkable job here too. I really would've rather seen him as a full time movie actor rather than going for TV.
There is only one thing that bothers me in this movie and it's the story in all it's simplicity. If people have had near death experiences before and have come back to tell, what new did this crew try to achieve? If not only have personal experience of death, but I got the idea most of them were in it for the science. Why risk brain damage and gamble with life for something you will not get any proof anyway. Especially given that they are medical students, the story is not 100 % believable, but like I stated earlier, watch this movie more for the mood.
I'm glad it's already been so long since the 90s so one can start appreciate the movies of this decade again without getting caught on the hairdos and such.
Im usually wary of movies hovering around the 6/10 mark on IMDb. Id
like to think people know what they are talking about and know what
they like. I guess the trick with reviewing is to take an approach of
"Hey, if i liked types of movies like these- would i give it a higher
score than i am about to give it now since I don't like these types of
movies" Then again people judge differently , basing more value on
acting, or perhaps story or directing. Anyway, landing the plane here-
i had rented this movie out before and hadn't had time to watch it,
this morning i did.
Wow! See this movie. I am personally interested in the paranormal/have read a bit about near death experiences, so automatically i was hooked. I am unsure about some of the comments here saying that a quality cast here was wasted - i disagree- the acting here was superb from all- i think this is the only time i didn't mind Julia Roberts, it was good to see 24's Kiefer Sutherland (Currently at the time of this review, serving a jail sentence for DUI), and Kevin Bacon sporting an interesting hair style.
Overall- i liked the direction, the atmosphere, the acting, and the story line most of all- particularly the idea of karma, and , to quote Nelson Wright "Everything we does matters" So true.
Countless TV displays and the memorable appearances from 4 of today's
mega-stars(plus Hope Davis's screen debut) keep Flatliners still in
prudence. The plot is about a non-academic research of five medicine
undergrads pursuing one's crazy idea on discovering the secret of
death, and learn what's after death, then come back to life again. Yet
the storyline hasn't been designed as fascinating as the idea of the
There are popular stereotypes to develop a regular teen-slasher script in Flatliners. There is Nelson who creates the idea of decoding death, pretty but introverted Rachel, David who cuts the Gordian knot on luckily not to be dismissed from the school, ladies' man Joe and finally the smart guy Randy("I did not come to medical school to murder my class mates no matter how deranged they might be"). They join hands altogether in an experiment where Nelson's heart will be stopped and rerythmed. Then they decide to continue this experiment in strict confidence at night times in the campus. Not long after Nelson's experience everyone starts a race over having the wildest and the longest death experience, risking their lives one by one. Yet, soon they realize their daily life becomes affected from those experiences they had. The visits to the afterlife brings back their delinquent feelings from their childhood memories. Depolarizing their deep subconscious watchfulness, they begin having somatic delusions and visual hallucinations.
When the point comes where the explanation of subconscious, director Joel Schumacher skips that every humankind has a subconscious personality which they are not aware of. This inner personality keeps one from altering into identity loss. If you lose or if you depolarize this subconscious personality you certainly lose your identity instead of refreshing childhood memories. I wanted to add this as a movie mistake, which already has been mentioned via movie critics in the earlier 90s'. Obviously here in this movie Schumacher made the actors have it least affected. Then why do they hesitate continuing on the experiment after learning their lesson, as if death is designed indiscoverable by God? David had been introduced as an Atheist, now he turned out to believe in God when he recalled a flashback from his childhood. After witnessing this 180 degreed change in David, it's clear to see that Schumacher's film was so conservative and lily-livered; that's ultimately why it's never classified as a work of science fiction. Alas! It had a good potential. It even tried to tell the unconscious maturation from having a death experience, beginning to believe that death is so simply natural and it's only a part of a human's life.
More than what's in the movie, it was also memorable to recall what's with the movie. Jan de Bont as the cinematographer, who had worked almost every time with Schumacher, creates an dreamy atmosphere like it's being an Gothic horror movie. The blue color schemes all over the walls reflecting into the actors' faces deliver first class of lighting, that suits perfectly with the film. The close-up shots of the gargoyle statues in the campus buildings, Catholic frescoes in the walls, stop-motion cameras, and the dynamic camera speeds were all belong to Bont's skills.
Flatliners became a cult movie in time with its sociological pen-portrait of the X-generation juvenile especially via its futuristic editing style with storyboard connection sequences like being part of a video music clip so much aesthetically. Those were the times where fast-paced and multi-sequenced video music clips were on rise. This style was very rare to come across in those years after its pioneer Tony Scott's "The Hunger(1983)".
Hmmm.... Since I love Kiefer Sutherland so much, my review might be a little biased. He was, however, pretty good in Flatliners. A wonderful idea for a movie, and a great gothic-type thriller. Sutherland's guilt and fright at the return of boy he taunted terribly when he was young (I'll try not to give away the rest) seemed genuine, especially since he seems drawn more often than not to act characters that are a**holes (there was really no other way to put it). As a young medical school student, his research into life after death draws his friends into dangerous situations and a great finale. The medical school did seem a little sub-standard, though, I will admit. Kevin Bacon is great in Flatliners, as is one of my favorite sarcastic actors, Oliver Platt. William Baldwin's also a cutie and did okay, and though I'm not a Julia Roberts fan, so did she. The plot will draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat, and there's an interesting dark atmosphere pervaded by a lot of red and blue for emotional impact. A good movie.. I'd give it at least an 8 out of 10
Every time I think about this film, I have this flashback of Wednesday
Addams about to electrocute Pugsly while playing a game called "Is
there a God?" The premise of the film is that one could view the
afterlife and come back with the ability to report on their findings.
The idea that a medical school would admit or retain anyone who had
these tendencies, let alone allow a sizable amount of expensive
equipment to go unaccounted for, is ridiculous. Given that, I have to
say the film has merit, but it is certainly not the merit of a sound
The acting, however, is superb, and every cast member should be applauded for their ability to rise to the occasion in this somewhat palatable "horror" film.
Kiefer's ability to maintain his character's persona is exceptional, breaking at just the right moment in the film.
Julia Roberts certainly gives us a performance rivaling her work in previous films, as well as adding an interesting perspective to the idea of guilt and redemption.
Kevin Bacon is the glue than binds this band together, with his ability to maintain the focus of the five on the problems they are facing.
Oliver Platt provides an interesting sort of comic relief, and William Baldwin brings his boyish demeanor into play with his particular sin, although you have to wonder how that character ever got into medical school.
The sets really give us the "horror" feeling, and you have to give Joel Schumacher his props for his camera angles and framing of the these spooky rooms and buildings.
Rated R for violence, sexual references and scenes, and language, definitely not one for the younger set. Wouldn't want to give anyone ideas. Not particularly collectible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Five medical students (Kevin Bacon, David Labraccio; William Baldwin,
Dr. Joe Hurley; Oliver Platt, Randy Steckle; Julia Roberts, Dr. Rachel
Mannus; Kiefer Sutherland, Nelson) experiment with clandestine near
death & afterlife experiences, (re)searching for medical & personal
enlightenment. One by one, each medical student's heart is stopped,
Under temporary death spells each experiences bizarre visions, including forgotten childhood memories. Their flashbacks are like children's nightmares. The revived students are disturbed by remembering regretful acts they had committed or had done against them. As they experience afterlife, they bring real life experiences back into the present. As they continue to experiment, their remembrances dramatically intensify; so much so, some are physically overcome. Thus, they probe & transcend deeper into the death-afterlife experiences attempting to find a cure.
Even though the DVD was released in 2007, this motion picture was released in 1990. Therefore, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Julia Roberts & Kiefer Sutherland were in the early stages of their adult acting careers. Besides the plot being extremely intriguing, the suspense building to a dramatic climax & the script being tight & convincing, all of the young actors make "Flatliners," what is now an all-star cult semi-sci-fi suspense. Who knew 17 years ago that the film careers of this young group of actors would skyrocket? I suspect that director Joel Schumacher did.
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