The question about whether there is life after death has been the subject of a fair few films. Approaching the question from different angles and trying to gain a fresh view on the possible afterlife, Flatliners is one that always springs to mind, and not just because of the 90s resurgence period we are going through. With the future star-studded cast, the classic 90s film tone bleeds through and director Joel Schumacher was able to leave his mark with what is now a cult classic.
When medical student Nelson Wright creates an experiment to find out what happens when you die, he convinces a group of his fellow students to aid him in his dangerous experiment. When Nelson is successfully brought back from the dead, the others want to try for themselves. But soon after returning, Nelson starts to have dark visions of his past that begin to physically harm in the present. At first, he says nothing to the group but soon, one by one after they return to life each member of the groups starts to see things too, as if they brought something back with them from their death.
One element of the film that always seemed so bizarre was the setting. The hospital that all the medical students are working in looks like a stately home. This makes the film gain an extra aesthetic layer, going deeper into the religious and somewhat displaced feeling that Rachel expresses. Making the hospital feel like a way station before the patients eventually leave. The location where the flatliners conduct their dangerous experiment also accentuates the questions they are trying to answer. What better to explore a possible after life than in a closed exhibition space in a museum. Where the remake had the flatliners in an actual hospital, separating the day-to-day life and the night time adventures just to create an atmosphere, like a stage performance.
As with many films from the 90s, we can look back and appreciate the excellent cast line up. Each standing out in their own way, maybe except for Oliver Platt who serves as the member of the team who does not flatline but chronicles everything on his annoying tape recorder. Kiefer Sutherland is the unhinged Nelson Wright determined to complete the experiment no matter who he has to bring with him. Julia Roberts is the soul-searching earnest Rachel, who seeks what happens after death because of a tragedy in her past. Billy Baldwin the stereotypical womaniser who thinks he can seduce every woman he meets while keeping his fiancé across the country in the dark, and Kevin Bacon who is the stand out in the ensemble as he not only is the key to bringing people back but he's quick to realise the deadly force they've all unleashed.
Mixing religion, philosophy and horror altogether, the story does reduce the wider question and focuses solely on those who flatlined, each with their own individual nightmare to deal with or overcome. This doesn't necessarily diminish the plot but is able to offer up some truly horrific images and scenarios, mainly for Nelson and Rachel. But there is something rather tame overall and its as if Schumacher is holding back on the trauma and the horror which is strange for the set up and the setting itself. To others they might find that the horror elements aren't ramped enough, but to others who wish to focus more on the characters, they will be likely be more satisfied.
It's easy to see why Flatliners gained a cult following. Bringing back someone from the brink of death to discover what lies on the other side is something that doctors, philosophers and many religions wonder about. Schumacher puts his mark on the film, giving an edge that we look back at and admire in the films of the 90s. Mixed with the current nostalgia we're all experiencing for that time period, Flatliners is the (rather tame) psychological thriller horror of that era that tries to answer the question while warning off any further investigation. However, that didn't stop the remake/sequel from 2017. Aside from this, Flatliners is untainted and holds on to its cult status, waiting for another generation to appreciate it.
Flatliners is released on Blu ray & 4K Ultra HD on 1st August from Arrow Video