Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Joel Schumacher.
Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Kimberley Scott.
Horror/Sci-Fi, USA, 115 mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on 4K UHD & Blu-ray via Arrow Video on 1st August 2022.



1990 was a strange year. The glitz and glamour of the 1980s had gone and the 1990s had no clear style or direction yet leaving the fashions and stylings of that particular year in a sort of limbo. In the film world this meant that established genre boundaries were blurring as fresh, new visions infiltrated the mainstream, and the up-and-coming stars of the mid-to-late ‘80s were now having to grow up a little bit – just a little, mind – and start producing material with a little more depth if they wanted to stay relevant.


Which is where FLATLINERS fits in, as it was directed by Joel Schumacher, who had given us the uber-cool teenage vampire hit THE LOST BOYS three years previous, and starred fringe Brat Packers Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts as they left behind their breakout teenager roles and became ‘serious’ actors (alright, Kiefer Sutherland was in YOUNG GUNS II the same year but that was a sequel to a 1988 movie so we’ll let it go). However, there was less hairspray and lairy outfits here – although Kevin Bacon’s hair no doubt needed some serious attention between takes – and a bit more of a nod towards Gothic melodrama as the three leads plus the even-further-down-the-Brat-Pack-pecking order Oliver Platt and William Baldwin play medical students on the verge of a major breakthrough as Nelson (Sutherland) has come up with a way of seeing into the afterlife by ‘killing’ the brain and heart for a minute before being revived - what could possibly go wrong?


A lot, as it happens, as each student tries to stay in the near-death state for longer than the previous attempt, but while they are in these state previous events come back to haunt them, with the ghosts of their pasts crossing over into their current waking life. Has Nelson and his ambition cost them their lives and how can they put it right?


Quite easily because FLATLINERS is a movie with a fantastic central premise, a solid young cast flexing their acting muscles with material that doesn’t play on their teen heart-throb images, and a crew of talented filmmakers with a sense of style and a taste for the dramatic. However, somewhere between the amazing script that everybody in the special features raves about and the final product something seems to have gotten lost in translation, and FLATLINERS never quite lives up to the sum of its parts.


With obvious nods to FRANKENSTEIN in its setting and execution, FLATLINERS offers up a story with plenty of room for exploration, commenting on death, religion and science but only on a surface level. For example, Kevin Bacon’s character David Labraccio drops into dialogue several times that he is atheist, he takes part in Nelson’s experiment, has a vision from his past (which is too similar to Nelson’s, but not as effective or consequential) and comes out the other side with a new appreciation for how he treated a girl at school twenty years before; fantastic, but where is the religious allegory or the deep personal leap of faith that should have taken place? It isn’t there.


The same anti-climax also applies to Julia Roberts’ Rachel, whose vision is of her father, a soldier returning home from war and suffering from PTSD. Again, a lot of room for exploration but it plays out exactly how a half-hour TV drama would play it out – quickly and without much depth. Joe (William Baldwin) and his vision never really have a conclusion and Oliver Platt’s Randy doesn’t get to go under at all, leaving Nelson’s vision to cast the most horrific shadow. Yes, the dreamlike way in which it is filmed is something we can probably all relate to but his resolution is just very dull and underwritten, relying on Kiefer Sutherland to do most of the heavy lifting that the script should be doing.


Despite not being an obvious choice for an Arrow Video 4K UHD release, one thing that this package can boast is one of the finest 4K restorations from the label so far. Not exactly a movie that immediately springs to mind when you think about what movies would look great in UHD, this impressive print of FLATLINERS brings out all the nuance in DoP Jan De Bont’s camera angles and lighting, and although Joel Schumacher’s usual flair is reigned in a (little) bit there are colourful flurries and set dressing details that you may have missed on previous releases. The image itself is clear and sharp most of the time, with a little bit of grain here and there, but when the oranges of the sunsets glow and the electric blues of the night-time world sit amongst the deep blacks like a neon nightmare you realise what a visual treat this movie is, instead of the narrative one it isn’t.


So, overall, FLATLINERS isn’t a great movie; it isn’t even a very good movie but rather an underwhelming one that gets by on the strength of its cast, flourishes of style and the fact that it is a transitional movie for those involved, setting them all – or mostly all – up for greater things, which worked as all the principal cast are all still working (yes, even William Baldwin). The horror elements aren’t played up nearly enough and there isn’t much in the way of peril once you realise that all the characters have all been resuscitated successfully, but FLATLINERS has an original idea at its core and, like a lot of things from 1990, is representative of a year that didn’t really have an identity but knew something different was needed. It just wasn’t quite there yet.


Chris Ward.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans