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directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Peter Filardi, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon. Reviewed by David Carroll

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#6, 1990

It's kind of embarrassing really, I won a free double pass to Flatliners through 2MMM, my favourite, and indeed only, radio station since the demise of poor old 2SM [1]. It's the first freebee I've had since attending the world premier of Mad Max III, and it looked like a fun sort of movie.

Guess what? I forgot to go.

Or, more accurately, I didn't read the date on the ticket properly and only realised several days later.

In an attempt to prevent this becoming the world's most irrelevant review I went the next week anyway, forking out money of course, and didn't regret it. The moment I came out of the cinema I wanted to go back in for a second viewing, but let's handle this one step at a time.

Flatliners concerns a group of medical students who want to find out what's going on out there. You know, there, beyond the misty curtain, the swan-song encore, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. So, lead by the unstable Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland), they kill themselves, calmly, under strict medical supervision, and then bring themselves back. Flatlining.

During clinical death they encounter the most startling images, from golden fields of long ago youth to dank, haunted tunnels, from vast snow fields to the tunnel leading to their birth, but when they return these images are fragmented, mostly lost, and only a feeling of peace remains. For one of the students this only confirms her research, interviews with patients with out-of-death experiences, but it is not enough, and they start bidding to be held under for longer and longer periods of time.

But something is happening, something scary. Back in the real world they experience phantoms of their past, old sins come to haunt them. Phantoms that bring back hidden memories, and inflict real pain.

Each of the four flatliners have there own sins and skeletons for which to atone, but it Nelson who finds himself faced with the ultimate dilemma, how can you make amends for the life of someone taken by your own hand?

Flatliners is a really scary movie, and at times during its span I was literally squirming in discomfort. It's not particularly gory, though it contains its own fair share of graphic detail, particularly with the student's classes in autopsies. No, it was the images that disturbed, from the violent to the mysterious. Its direction, though at times unsubtle (as a friend commented, it was over-directed) was excellent both in technique and imagery. Some of the scenes, especially one involving cyclists at night, have got to be seen to be believed.

Being a character and conflict-based scenario the producers have assembled a wonderful cast. Kiefer Sutherland of course, probably best known as David, one of the vampires in Lost Boys, and a great actor of the less then stable-minded. Julia Roberts (recently seen in the idealogically unsound Pretty Woman) and Kevin Bacon (seen in that wonderful movie Tremors) also star as a pair of brilliant students who participate in the experiments for their own reasons. William Baldwin and Oliver Platt complete the group, the former as a newly engaged student who hides a selfish secret in his video library of the dozens of woman he has seduced and secretly taped during love-making, the latter as the philosopher of the group, who thinks the whole thing isn't really that good an idea.

But sharing a lead star isn't this films only link with The Lost Boys, as the two were both produced by the same people, and both share the problem of a gradual degradation of plot towards their respective conclusions. Whilst Lost Boys changes from a wonderful look at teenage alienation with overtones of drug abuse into a straight-forward vampire hunt, Flatliners turns into a story with a moral, the rather pat ending, while providing us with a nicely rounded narrative, is at odds with much of the mood of the preceeding events. How much this puts you off seems to be a fairly personal thing, for some people it destroys the movie, for others it's an irritation, and others simply don't notice.

I think Flatliners is a brilliant film, for much of its time intelligent, provocative, and containing some of the scariest scenes I have ever seen on celluloid. In the end it equates a character's deserving of death with the actual act of dying, and that is a mistake, but over-all, it may just prompt you to see it again.


[1] Okay, I'm leaving these reviews and essays pretty much as they were ten years ago, but this can't go uncommented, since I currently can't stand more than about a minute of 2MMM... bloody commercial radio. These days I'm more of a JJJunkie.


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