A group of medical students tests medically killing each other and then being brought back when something seems to be coming back with each of them.
Written by Peter Filardi (whose Ricky 6 needs a proper release asap) and directed by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners comes off as a very, very early 1990s low-key scifi film with touches of horror and a bit of dark fantasy. This is one that has aged decently well, most likely due to being a well-made film with talented people pretty much everywhere. The story is interesting in that it can be taken as just a group of people messing with science they may not fully understand yet and making a mess, but it’s more than that. The film is very much about people under a ton of stress deciding to try something for the thrill of it and ending up faced with their pasts, their regrets, the need to make amends to be able to move on, and how each person can see their own guilt, whether they are actually guilty of anything or not. The writing and directing here are good, the writing brings up good point and creating a proper creepy atmosphere at times, something that is made more pervasive with the use of imagery, locations, and performers who can really bring it. The direction is a bit flashy in spot, but it is Joel Schumacher we are talking about here, the man whose Batman had nipples and who brought the overly much The Phantom of the Opera to the big screen.
The performances here are what most people will be attracted to with Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and William Baldwin in the parts of the medical students at the center of everything. With Platt playing the only one of them not going under, his involvement seems a bit less than the others, but his performance is interesting while maybe a bit over the line of what really needed here. Playing a creep William Baldwin seems to be bringing his genesis of the Sliver character to the screen here. He plays a player, a creep, someone who doesn’t want to have regrets and he does so, well, ok. The better performances here are Bacon, Roberts, and Sutherland and they seem to have the meatiest of parts. Roberts seems to be the most emotionally attached to the part, for better or worse, with a few really excellent scenes, especially towards the end. Sutherland is playing it hard, being a more difficult one to crack, but he does so in a way that works here. Not his best work, but pretty darn good. Bacon gets some of the best bits here, his character seemingly better rounded in the writing and in how he brings him to the screen. These performances are good to see how these folks coming together earlier on in their careers could bring an interesting and attention-grabbing group to the screen.
The film’s look here is interesting with sequences shot in what looks to be a church, absolutely not an accident given the central themes, maybe even a bit heavy ended, but for those who have spent many hours in churches but aren’t really attached to them, this is something that can add to the creep factor. There is something about churches that feels like it forces some to face their mortality, they sins, and their repenting. Here this is very present and not subtle at all. These scenes as well as the rest are shot with a very 1990s use of lighting that still comes off beautifully to this day. The blue and red hues come off really nicely on HD and are just pretty to look at really. The cinematography by director of photography Jan de Bont is great with some framing that is perfect at times and that gives the characters and their parts of the story, something to connect with the viewer visually.
The current release here comes with a brand new 4k UHD transfer that is the perfect way to bring that cinematography to life. The extras here are not necessarily what some will be looking for. The new extras here are more interesting when they are about the art behind the scenes and the new video with Jan De bont is definitely the main attraction point. The new audie commentary is not one that all will be into as it’s by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, not a knock on them, but one with De bont or perhaps some of the cast would have been a more solid choice if available. The new artwork by Gary Pulin is stunning, but some will want to use the reverse of the sleeve with the original artwork.
As it is this re-release is a very solid one on the technical side and the film itself still carries much of its creep factor with the ghosts of the past and the weight of making peace with the past is something that will never really die. It’s definitely entertaining and the performances are great to see from a cast most know so well by now.