Classic Film Review: Flatliners (1990)

Flatliners, 1990

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon


What happens after we die? Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland, Flatliners (2017)), a medical student, wants to find out so much that he comes up with a medical experiment with his four other medical student friends where he kills himself completely, and then is brought back to life after a minute to know what happens afterwards. In death Nelson sees a variety of images, all seemingly nice images, but there was a dark undertone with certain parts. In the days afterwards all his friends each want to go next, and bet a greater time spent against one another until four of five have gone. Those who have gone, though, start experiencing visions or hallucinations of things they saw while they were dead.

Interesting concept, but it had more issues than it should have. Nelson goes first, but he goes the shortest time, yet his vision (a young boy in a red coat) physically assault him in the real world. Rachel (Julia Roberts) sees her father, who died when she was younger, Dave (Kevin Bacon) is teased by a young girl and Joe (William Baldwin) sees various girls he’s slept with and secretly recorded. The level of visions are too varied and it is never fully established whether these visions are a good thing or not (Rachel has a nice touching moment with her father, whereas Nelson is nearly murdered). And the conclusion answers almost nothing (Dave thinks they can atone for their sins against the visions they are seeing, so he apologises to the now grown up woman who was the little girl) but Rachel’s and Nelson’s visions are dead, and Joe is just forgotten about in the grand scheme. The film suffers from not establishing if the visions are real or not (because they’re physically touching Nelson and others walk around to be near them, but Joe is surrounded by women but they disappear just as quick as they come in one scene), and from not establishing why the visions have followed them back to life. If it’s because they cheated death they are only in the form of those they’ve wronged, if it’s to atone then why haven’t more come through?

The acting is fine, although I don’t particularly like Kiefer Sutherland as the lead; I know he’s a pretty decent actor but in this film he seems to be the weak link of the main three (including Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts), and his character also is given the role of being the unfortunate Mr. Exposition at times, explaining to everyone in a flat voice what’s going on. It’s a shame the writing didn’t fully allow for the characters to be more developed, as it instead prefers to go straight into the action, as we are left with ever-mind-changing characters (who initially hate the experiment but soon are jumping on the band-wagon to have a go).

Had the film established what was really happening clearer, with a nice explanatory ending and better storytelling earlier on this could have been a much better film (and hopefully its sequel will answer some of those), as it had a decent cast and a decent director (he hadn’t directed Batman & Robin by this point so still had some credibility) and had Michael Douglas as producer, it had all the parts but jumped far too quickly into an action-horror film that it failed to give us a reason to be invested. It also never answered what happens, at least in their world, after we die. If this film is anything to go by we have one last memory of someone we’ve wronged, but they don’t make a difference between Nelson going one minute and Rachel going five. Not a bad film, but not a great film.


Plot: * * *     Acting: * * *      Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * *

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