REVIEW – ‘Flatliners’ (1990)

Thanks to good performances, this is still a good little thriller about the afterlife.

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: July 27, 1990
DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jan de Bont
WRITER: Peter Filardi
MUSIC: James Newton Howard

A little over 10 years ago, I was a big fan of Kiefer Sutherland’s show, “24”. This was because I was also a huge fan of the actor. When the show really hit big, I went and looked for some of his earlier films that I had never seen before.

That was when I found “Flatliners”, a film starring not just a young Sutherland, but also a young Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt. The movie focuses on a group of well-to-do medical students. The “leader” Nelson Wright (Sutherland) has developed a means to die only to be brought back to life in order to get concrete evidence as to whether or not there is an afterlife once we die.

After Nelson is the first to cross over and come back, he does seem to be more aware of the world around him and he claims to have been in a comforting place when he died. Soon, three of the other students also partake in the experiment, seeing different things when they die and come back.

Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for playing God. Not long after their experiences, each of the students begin seeing things from their past and in Nelson’s case, a boy shows up that is actually trying to kill him. Now the students must figure out what they have to do to make up for their past transgressions.

The movie is both a story about playing God and a look at the philosophical nature of life after death. Now, for the proper dramatic effect, the movie has to show that something is on the other side. The movie is abstract in telling us exactly what is out there but the fact that the characters drag some of their sins back with them is a novel approach.

I will go ahead and say that my biggest problem with the movie is that two of the characters’ “sins” are really tame and that Julia Roberts’ character, Rachel Manus, and Nelson have the more interesting back stories. Rachel’s is a search for redemption while Nelson’s is the horror story of the movie with a ghostly apparition coming to get him.

The cast is pretty decent, with strong praise being directed at both Sutherland and Roberts. Bacon is good, but he’s your typical male hero and Oliver Platt provides a healthy amount of comedic relief as he questions the morality of what they are doing. Baldwin is just sort of there and his character’s story is probably the weakest, but I blame the script more for that than I do the performer.

The movie may hold back a bit on exploring its themes, but the end result is a movie that carries a fair amount of visual style. Director Joel Schumacher’s influence is definitely felt with dreamy shots created in the camera and, of course, a fair amount of neon lighting in one scene.

Still, the movie definitely earned its cult status and you’re either going to think that it’s too tame or just right when dealing with the movie’s subject matter. For me, I think it’s just right with an interesting premise, strong direction, and a decent cast that more than make up for a script that gets more right than it does wrong.

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