Dying Young Over and Over Again
When I first watched "Flatliners" back around 1990 I thought it was the dog's doodahs; it had a good cast, it had style and most significantly had atmosphere. Now some 20 years later and having re-watched "Flatliners" the whole experience stands up pretty well; the casting is still for the most good, the style whilst now feeling at times forced is still effective but most importantly it still has atmosphere. And it's because "Flatliners" is still full of atmosphere and is creepy with a clever idea about whether or not there is life after death which makes it still entertaining and well worth a watch.
Medical student Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland - Young Guns II) is fascinated in whether there is life after death and talks his fellow class mates into exploring the unknown by letting him die under controlled conditions and then after a minute bringing him back to life. But that is not the only thing they bring back to life as Nelson becomes haunted by a young boy who he bullied as a child. And Nelson is not the only one as Joe (William Baldwin), Rachel (Julia Roberts) and David (Kevin Bacon) all experience the after life and each bring something back with them, plaguing their lives in the real world.
The strength of "Flatliners" is the actual storyline as we watch a group of medical students explore the unknown by dying so that they can see whether there is something on the other side, before being brought back to life by their friends. It's an interesting concept for a movie especially when you get the element of what you've done in this life not only forms what happens in the afterlife but also comes back with you when you are brought back to life. So we watch as Nelson is beaten up by a boy who as a child he bullied, David becomes haunted by a girl he picked on, Joe is plagued by visions of all the women he unscrupulously bedded and Rachel sees her dead dad.
Now the thing about all of this is that whilst it is creepy by what they each see when they die and is equally creepy by the visions they encounter when they are revived especially when it comes to the physical attacks which Nelson suffers it is the concept of it which is more creepy. It causes you to think that if just maybe there was some smidgen of truth in this and you were resuscitated what shit would return with you. And as such it is as much this side of the "Flatliners" the psychological side as what you actually see which ends up creeping you out.
But the thing is that "Flatliners" is very much a fantasy movie and as such it begs that you take a lot for granted. Let's put it this way a small group of students using an abandoned, gothic looking building to do this experiment on are not going to go unnoticed. And as such there are numerous holes in the story where you just have to go with the flow rather than try and make sense of it all. At the same time director Joel Schumacher forces the creepy style which now feels at times comical, the Halloween party scene outside the building being just one of the strangest of the forced moments.
As for making sense of all this and bringing closure to the story well it is a little cheesy when suddenly we have them realising to rid themselves of the past they need to atone for the sins which are haunting them. And this is where the casting is a bit of an issue because in Keefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt you have a cast which are too popular or at least too popular to do anything really bad to. Basically whilst Kiefer Sutherland's Nelson may be getting the proverbial crap beaten out of him by a boy he once bullied you know that nothing seriously bad will have happened to him by the time the credits roll and it is the same with the others.
But despite this issue the casting is in fact good, none of the performances are that amazing but it is a well matched group with each actor playing to their strengths and in some cases type. Baldwin may have been 3 years away from making the erotic thriller "Sliver" but he is well cast as a serial seducer who records his sexual conquests whilst Julia Roberts does a nice job of exploring her sensitive side as Dr. Rachel Mannus. And then there is the almost alpha male battle going on between Sutherland and Bacon as their feelings for Rachel simmer along in the back ground as well as their feelings about the experiment.
What this all boils down to is that "Flatliners" is still a surprisingly good movie some 20 plus years after its release. It's not quite as good as I remember but the most important thing is that it is still creepy with it's concept of life after death and atoning for your sins.