Flatlines is a Joel Schumacher psychological horror film with a science-fiction-twist to it. A group of medical students want to know what really happens when you die. They start doing all these secret experiments at their university after dark, causing near-death experiences to find out. Kiefer Sutherland plays Nelson Wright, who is sort of the ringleader of the group.
The film feels like a cheesy thriller from 1990, which is essentially what it is. It has a good cast, including a young Julia Roberts, Hope Davis in her first film, and Keven Bacon, who is always reliable. William Baldwin is also part of the student group. It has the flashiness that you expect from Schumacher, which to some elevates it but at times hurts it. He was definitely a good visual stylist at his best. The main thing it has in its favour is that it’s well-shot by Jan De Bont, who was a frequent collaborator with Paul Verhoeven in his early years. It has a really nice look, with slightly trippy afterlife sequences. It’s very obvious that they really liked Altered States, but it doesn’t even come close to that film. It feels like David Cronenberg lite thanks to the medical aspect, but never really goes there (probably because there was too much money on the line).
Schumacher had a nice little run in the late ‘80s-early 90s with Lost Boys and Falling Down. Flatliners isn’t the worst of his films by a long shot, the execution of the story just doesn’t do justice to the cast. They could have gone much further into certain aspects of the story than they did, but that may be because of the constraints of doing a big studio movie that they wanted to sell to teenagers. It’s definitely a really good example of one of those original spec scripts that was bought and made into a blockbuster in the early ‘90s – in this case, written by Peter Filardi, also the author of The Craft.
Sutherland was never quite a bona fide “Brat Pack” member, but he jokingly once referred to it in Fangoria as “The Breakfast Club Dies and St. Elmo’s Funeral.” It has an interesting reverse twist on the Frankenstein story, and they definitely tried to do something unique. It just doesn’t completely come together—although there are aspects to enjoy. The film is certainly improved by the cinematography and art direction, which are quite impressive, and that’s where Flatliners succeeds.
It’s a 4K disc, so the visuals really pop—as you would hope they would. There is a new commentary from critics Brian Reesman and Max Evry, and new video interviews with screenwriter Peter Filadi, director of photography Jean de Bont, lighting tech Edward Ayer, first assistant director John Kretchmer, production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundly. Flatliners was composer James Newton Howard’s first score, and he is also featured in a video interview with orchestrator Chris Boardman. That said, they didn’t get any of the actors on board for the reissue—not even William Baldwin.