MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Horror/ Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Kimberly Scott, Joshua Rudoy, Benjamin Mouton, Hope Davis, Patricia Belcher, Beth Grant/ Runtime: 114 minutes
“Today’s a good day to die.” No I guess I should let you know right now that the 1990 piece of cinema that is Flatliners from iconic film helmer Joel Schumacher (yep; that would be the guy who gave us Bat Nipples) is nowhere close to being an episode of Star Trek (think more like 80s Twilight Zone or Outer Limits) nor is it a riveting and insightful documentary about all the things that enabled the 5th Star Trek film to go off the rails even if the quote I used at the beginning of this review, the first line in this film incidentally, has become tied at the hip to a certain combat-adoring alien race from that sci-fi series. That is because even though this slice of cinematic pie begins its riveting yarn with a musing on one’s demise, Flatliners is not exactly a movie which deals with death as much as you might think. Rather, here is a slice of cinematic pie which revolves around life, the aspiration of really doing everything in one’s power to try and make the most of the time that we are given on this world, and about the laudable attempt to reestablish a sense of equilibrium to, whilst also reestablishing a feeling of genuine decency and fulfillment for, no less an item than the human soul. Indeed, if anything dear reader this slice of cinematic pie is one that utilizes the concept of death as a way to permit its cast of characters, and through them you the viewer, to see life and the world around them in a whole new way. Indeed it should be little wonder then to see that the main theme at play here is an analysis of how crucial salvation and the self-appointed job of fixing things from your past which haunt you to your very core and which, even without you knowing, have helped to shape and mold your life and the choices you’ve made even if you are not aware of how harmful trying to right those wrongs potentially could become in the process. Thus packaged and sold to us in the clothing of a medically-grounded psychological horror film, this slice of cinematic pie proves to be a much better movie than even I would have thought as it manages to not hesitate to explore some much more immersive concepts that help to provide gravity and meaning to distinct film helmer Joel Schumacher’s quite gutsy slice of cinematic pie whilst also giving us a wonderful group of performances from a quintet of performers who at that time were still making their way around the industry of movie magic rather than being some of the bright stars that they are today.
The plot is as follows: This take on Flatliners (added there at the behest of this slice of cinematic pie’s horrendous 2017 remake) takes us to a pitch black, hard as nails, and ominously foreboding school meant to usher into society the next generation of doctors, nurses, and other esteemed members of the members of the medical community as we see firsthand that a quintet of highly intelligent and ambitious-to-a-fault medical students by the names of Nelson, Rachel, David, Joe, and Randy are in the midst of preparing to embark on a potentially perilous scientific mission that has the potential to take them to a locale that no one human being has truly ever embarked and lived to talk about it and what they experienced whilst they were there. To that end, we see that this journey consists of Nelson persuading his classmates/ future colleagues in the field of medicine to medically kill him with the promise to revive him after a predetermined amount of time in an attempt to try and acquire a possible answer to one of the biggest questions that has haunted mankind of millennia: Is there anything to look forward to after we die and if there is then does it provide any extra meaning or context to what we know as “life” around us every single day? Suffice it to say that, despite their initial misgivings and senses of hesitation, we witness that in the aftermath of Nelson actually making a surprisingly successful odyssey to and from the “Great Hereafter” that the rest of the group, save 1, become a lot more open to what the experiment Is trying to accomplish and as such volunteer to take part and see what lies in store for themselves in the name of advancing medical science….or rather their own sense of inflated pride and ego. However, we soon that that as they stay gone for longer periods of time and begin, for all intents and purposes, playing God that this quintet of friends will soon learn that not only are they learning more about how their lives have gone rather than what awaits them after they are gone, but that there is a price tag for crossing this line and if you’re not careful part of the bill to be paid means you might just bring something back with you….
Now in addition to the thematic concepts which are slowly but surely analyzed in greater detail as this movie goes on, Flatliners main thing you will notice right off the bat is that it is proof of film helmer Joel Schumacher’s unique visual panache and artistic touch for the downright….strange to the point that this film is a slice of cinematic pie that has a visual style so novel that if you are even more than just remotely aware of some of the other movies he has made, The Lost Boys and Bat-Clooney being 2 of the more noteworthy examples, you will be able to easily tell just who it was that made this distinct slice of cinematic pie. Indeed this is one slice of cinematic pie that manages to bring together just about every ingredient we’ve come to expect from this distinct film helmer. Indeed it’s enveloped in immersive and pitch-black shadows, has quite a few Gothic statues and buildings, has odd moments-of neon glowing imagery in the middle of the dark, incorporates an unnecessary moment of spooky people rocking way too colorful and just a tad bit revolting costumes, and even gives us several flyover moments just to be a good sport. In addition, Schumacher’s trademark work in the visual department is also supported by his typical mix tape of rock and synth music that will make you feel like you are watching The Lost Boys all over again. Suffice it to say that with this film and The Lost Boys, Schumacher is able to showcase that, despite what may have happened with Batman and Robin to name one distinct example, he can make his distinct flair operate in synchronicity with narratives that can handle the oddity of what is being shown visually IF the narrative being told is one that is fairly dark in nature and not something that could be told in a much lighter atmosphere.
Suffice it to say then that Flatliners manages to operate quite well on the back of both the thematic concepts its working with as well as its narrative. Yes Schumacher’s distinct visual flair is actually not that much of a hindrance this particular go-around, but by the same token it also is of little aid to a narrative that I feel was always meant to possess pitch-black visuals and shadows on the wall, but still could have done just as well if it didn’t possess the iconic excess that has come to really define just what a Schumacher movie consists of for both general film goers and reviewer alike. Be that as it may be, Flatliners still manages to showcase itself as quite the riveting film even as we are treated to a particularly one-note first half that sees several of our cast deliberately bumped off and then brought back to life with little hints of just what exactly is in store for them slowly, but surely bleeding into the film. There is also this slice of cinematic pie’s edgy, often quippy, but quite potent script that does every so often wander off into the weird vibe enveloping the overall film, but by the end it is not that difficult to distinguish what is noteworthy in this particular viewing experience and what was just unnecessary filler material that was there to just pad out the runtime or something to that effect. Finally, it should be said that the work done in this by a quintet of, at that time, up and coming cast is all rock solid. Indeed there is an integrity to this quintet, with particular regard to the work done by Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Bacon since it is this trio whose respective parts in this are not just perhaps the core to the narrative, but whose parts are also gifted the most gravitas due to the actors playing them having a deep comprehension and appreciation for the themes that this slice of cinematic pie is working with at its very core.
All in all I am not going to lie to you dear reader: the slice of cinematic pie that is the 1990 take on Flatliners is by no means, shape, form, or even fashion a classic piece of cinema in any sense of the word. Heck if I’m being absolutely honest I don’t know of that many people who claim it as one of their ride or die movies they have to watch at least once a year or can even call it one of their top 10 movies of all time. At the same time however, there is no denying that this slice of cinematic pie truly is a well-done piece of cinema that manages to negate a lot of the more unusual visual choices its distinct helmer chooses to operate with due in large part to a riveting and somewhat novel narrative that permits the movie to obtain some positivity which takes the shape of a message about how crucial redeeming oneself and obtaining forgiveness for one’s misdeeds in life can be in the world around us to filter in even as this slice of cinematic pie’s atmosphere chooses to remain in equal parts ominous and pitch-black. Suffice it to say then that when you also factor in some actually good work from a collection of, at that particular time, rising Hollywood icons in the 90s, this is one slice of cinematic pie that still has plenty of life to be found in it even though 3 decades has come and gone since its initial release and is definitely worth at the very least a watch. On a scale of 1-5 I give Flatliners “90” a solid 3 out of 5.