Synopsis: Medical students bring themselves near death; their experiment begins to go awry
Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin
Director: Joel Schumacher
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: There are some movies that bring up a lot of memories when you hear the title and for me just hearing the name Flatliners takes me back to the summer of 1990 when I anxiously awaited the August release of this thriller. I recall the movie was released when my family was at our cabin and I wouldn’t be able to see it until we returned to the cities but it wasn’t long until my dad took me (hey, I was still underage for an R-rated movie!) to Yorktown 3 for a weeknight showing.
Flatliners has always been a guilty pleasure film for me with its over-the-top concept, stylish direction by Schumacher, and enjoyable performances by a cast that have all gone on to bigger and better things (well, maybe Baldwin excluded). Revisiting the film again recently, I found that it still packed a nice little punch even if my adult eyes saw many of the cracks that previously went over my head.
Schumacher was a hot director at the time and was still riding the successful high of The Lost Boys three years earlier. His remake of a French romance (Cousins) was well-received yet Schumacher would change course again to deliver what may seem like a horror film but is really more of a drama-thriller. Re-teaming with one of his Lost Boys (Sutherland) and nabbing shooting star Roberts (who filmed this before Pretty Woman was released in March of 1990) was a bit of a coup and both actors, along with Bacon, Platt, and Baldwin formed a nice quintet of players as medical students pushing the line between life and death.
Sutherland has always been an interesting actor (much like his father, Donald) and he turns what could have been a one note hero/anti-hero role into a guy with some depth though it’s masked by a false bravado. Film history has established that doctors have a God-complex and that notion is played up as the medical students each take turns ‘flatlining’ in an after-hours illegal pseudo-study group. It’s when they are brought back that, unbeknownst to them, they bring something else back with them.
Essentially, the same scenario is replayed over and over again as each of our leads has a different experience in the thin line between heaven and earth. All of the post-revival happenings are menacing in one way or another but none are of the serial killer variety…though the film’s preview tries to trick you into thinking they are. Sutherland begins to be terrorized by a boy from his youth, Roberts sees her dead father, and Baldwin’s seedy past comes back to haunt him. The secret to Bacon’s struggle seems to parallel what Sutherland is going through but a surprisingly emotional twist brings the film its best scene between Bacon and someone from his past.
This could have been made by any number of directors with any combination of actors but the group that has been assembled strongly delivers a thriller even with its definite B-movie origins. Elevating it slightly is James Newton Howard’s alarming score and Jan de Bont’s excellent visuals. The film was shot around Loyola University in Chicago and Schumacher mines the campus and its gothic design for all it’s worth.
Flatliners does fall, um, flat in the middle section but I’ve always responded well to the movie in my numerous viewings of it throughout the years. Yes, the basic plot stretches the bounds of any logical credibility and in hindsight much of it doesn’t line up but I’m willing to forgive a lot from a film that has its eyes and ears in the right place. From a visual standpoint alone the film is recommended, and if you’re looking for a slick thriller from the 90’s that isn’t too horribly dated, you can’t miss with this one.