Five medical students experiment with "near death" experiences, until the dark consequences of past tragedies begin to jeopardize their lives.Five medical students experiment with "near death" experiences, until the dark consequences of past tragedies begin to jeopardize their lives.Five medical students experiment with "near death" experiences, until the dark consequences of past tragedies begin to jeopardize their lives.
What separates Flatliners from a lot of films based on this premise that would come out today is that it does not stoop to being condescending or arrogant. Flatliners recognises that people go to films to be entertained, not moralised to. In this kind of supernatural thriller, the difference this restraint makes is really incredible. What's even more incredible is that Julia Roberts appears without being annoying or demonstrating that she can only play Julia Roberts. The theory of obscurity, that performing artists do their best work with the smallest audience, is in force here.
The subplots concerning what the characters find during their loss of pretty much everything that makes them alive, and how it comes back to intrude on their present time, are done surprisingly well. The moments when William Baldwin's character finds his personal videotape collection coming back to haunt him are especially intriguing. That William Baldwin seems so perfectly cast in the role says a lot either about the script or the direction. I am not sure which.
Kiefer Sutherland, on the other hand, really shines as the lead. One really feels for him as the mystery of what past experience is intruding on the present and why unfolds. As Kevin Bacon's character goes to find an old school pier whose life he made hell and tell her how sorry he is, it becomes clearer what the film is about. We can try to change the past as much as we like, but it's what we do with the present that matters most.
Another good aspect of Flatliners is how it achieves an atmosphere without the use of expensive, elaborate visual effects. Quite unusually for what is essentially a horror film, Flatliners did not expend its budget in places where it did not need to. Much of what we see during the more surreal sequences is a case of professional pretending, simple trick photography, or stock footage. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
If there is a problem with the film, it's that it feels about ten minutes too short. The ending seems more perfunctory than conclusive, as if someone in the studio asked the director to wrap the film up so they can bring it out at a certain market time. Of course, many films have been left with sore spots for this very reason, so Flatliners shouldn't really need to be any different. The hundred and fifteen minutes we do get is highly satisfactory, though not overly brilliant.
I gave Flatliners a seven out of ten. It works well as a date flick or a kind of late-night popcorn film. That aside, it makes a good reminder that low-budget horror shows weren't always sad pieces of garbage.
- Nov 10, 2004