The prospect of what happens after death and how five medical students dangerously attempt to discover this form the basis of the stylish and often intense Flatliners. While it sometimes doesn’t reach the existential themes it’s going for, Flatliners still emerges as a spooky supernatural thriller with a fine cast and direction.
In an eerie looking building which resembles an old cathedral, part of which is being renovated, a group of medical students are studying to become doctors . But soon it’ll be more intense and dark than they ever imagined when one of them gets a rather alarming idea for a dangerous . That person in question is the arrogant dreamer Nelson Wright(Kiefer Sutherland). Joining him, we have talented yet sometimes erratic David Labraccio(Kevin Bacon), sleazy Lothario Joe Hurley(William Baldwin), diligent, composed Rachel Manus(Julia Roberts) and wise ass Randy Steckle( Oliver Platt) . In the evening, they sneak medical supplies into a disused wing of the building for their planned experiment. Nelson plans to be put into a state of death for a few minutes then be shocked back to life before actually dying for real. He hopes that he can experience the afterlife and live to tell the tale about what he unearths. Nelson’s experiments seems to go well as he admits that he believes. What he doesn’t tell the others is that he is also plagued by an incident from childhood that won’t let him rest. As the rest of group begin undergoing the experiment , they are haunted by their past traumas, misdeeds and sins. Power struggles and paranoia ensue as they try to outdo each other, Nelson becomes increasingly unhinged and David begins developing deep feeling for Rachel. As events darken, they fall victim to the repercussions of their actions and Playing God. What began as a foolish experiment of curiosity into the other side soon turns into a waking nightmare for all involved as they wrestle with the horror of the situation.
Joel Schumacher is at the helm of Flatliners and his gift for stylish content is very much in evidence. Though it should also be noted he also manages to tap into some quite disturbing places and emotional ones too, rising above some of the scripts repetition to craft a spooky supernatural thriller. Despite longueurs in the script , Peter Filardi’s work on the screenplay here still does a commendable job with it at least getting us to consider mortality and the consequences of our actions in the past. One thing truly worth of praise in Flatliners is the rather striking production design which suggests a haunted house tinged with religious iconography and MTV style gloss. It’s a fertile space where the main characters begin their reckless, clandestine experiments and the set design is rendered with supreme style that backs up the eeriness the film is going for. And Flatliners does have plenty of style running through its veins right from the get go; courtesy of Schumacher’s always impressive visual directing and the moody cinematography (largely cold blues and deep reds) . Swirling camerawork in the visions of afterlife contribute to the heady atmosphere of the piece as does a very good mastery of editing and sound. Standout scenes include the slimy being confronted in hallucinatory by his treatment and surreptitious recording of ladies in intimate situations and the students scrambling to save Rachel after the power goes out, leaving the experiment in danger of resulting in permanent death. James Newton Howard is on score duties and he mixes synth heavy atmospherics with choral flourishes that make it a ghoulish and haunting listen.
The cast of then young stars either on the rise or just established is on good form playing these curious and flawed characters . provides intense and later dangerous instability as the ringleader of the warped experiment in life and death. Sutherland always has an edge to him that I find riveting to watch and he doesn’t disappoint as the arrogant instigator of the haunting events. Julia Roberts is also very effective as the lone woman in the group who has her own personal agenda for taking part. Showing a graceful, demure vulnerability and a sense of haunted grit crossed with sadness, Roberts contributes highly to the proceedings with an earnest and convincing performance. Kevin Bacon, who I find to be incredibly reliable in most things, doesn’t disappoint here. He’s the often rebellious atheist who feels he has nothing to lose but ends up becoming the most concerned and caring of the group as he sees things are getting out of control. Bacon balances a youthful recklessness and an eventual maturity admirably and is very good in the part . William Baldwin is appropriately sleazy and randy as the love rat whose treatment of women really comes back to bite him; making him really go over and regret just how awful his behaviour has been to the opposite sex. Oliver Platt is mainly used as the comic relief of the group; constantly telling everyone this is a very bad idea and delivering witty retorts to his comrades. He’s probably given the least to do here but has his moments.
So while it’s not a masterwork in supernatural thriller or of existential leaning, Flatliners is still an entertainingly creepy, well acted and stylish excursion into unusual what if possibilities regarding death and what may dangerously follow