The Test of Time: Flatliners (1990)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether or not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Julia Roberts

On TV, people sure do love them some medical dramas. Beyond cop shows, I can’t think of another profession that has been extorted to the point of absolute overkill. It’s never been my genre, but clearly people love it. On the big screen, however, the medical world hasn’t been as proficient. So when med movies get made, especially the dark ones, it grabs my attention. After all, the best doctor movie ever has to be Frankenstein.

With The Lazarus Effect hitting theaters this weekend and Kevin Bacon’s The Following returning to TV screens, the time seems right to revisit a film that boasts an Oscar winner, a couple TV stars, and a Baldwin. I don’t know if The Lazarus Effect will be worth a shit, but somehow I doubt its many stars won’t find the same success as this cast. It’s been a long, long time since Joel Schumacher had a legitimate hit, but does his 1990 exploration for the afterlife hold up?

Under the examination: Flatliners (1990)

Keifer is searching for his film career.

THE STORY: Dark, demented shit can and most likely does occur in the medical world, probably way more than us regular folks want to know. In Flatliners, a group of medical students become obsessed pushing line between life and death by flatlining. Their mission? To see how long they can last before coming back from the dead. More specifically, they wanna explore if anything waits beyond, in that white light, on the other side. As they keep pushing the boundaries and their flatline time…bad things happen.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: For a major studio picture with a big time director, big time cast, it’s pretty impressive that Flatliners exists. It’s a hell of a dark movie without a whole lot of hope within it. It’s not like the credits roll and the characters have come to some great medical or religious conclusion. And that’s what I like about the film. No any easy avenues taken here in exploring life after death. Why? Because, according to Dr. Keifer Sutherland and company, the experiences depend on the individual. The only common thread is that something will haunt you. No way around that part. 

Insert career flatline joke here.

Now, an interesting question is if anyone would give a shit about Flatliners if it didn’t have the same cast. I’m not sure. Replace these actors, who basically defined in the late 80’s/early 90’s, and it would lose a lot of luster. Each actor definitely adds to the movie, especially Keifer who apparently was unable to return from his Lost Boys performance. Seriously, he can't help but channel David...but without the fangs. Somehow though it still works for Flatliners. His character Nelson likes to push the boundaries of science and comes back from the dead seriously f*cked up. In fact, the whole cast is great with Bacon as the sensitive doctor, William Baldwin as the horny doctor, Julia Roberts as the Julia Roberts doctor, and Oliver Platt as the nerdy doctor. 

The story by Peter Filardi (who wrote a lot of horror flicks) stands strong no matter the cast as it's a great psychological experiment. With that said, without (brace yourself Batman fans) the inventiveness of director Joel Schumacher, with his use of lighting and camera work, the movie wouldn’t be the same. He created unique, seriously haunting nightmares for each flatlined character, using blue and red lights to badass effect.

Leather jacket and leather gloves. Only Mr. Bacon. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The movie isn’t always the most exciting, slow in pace with characters who aren’t exactly likable. One of my main issues with movies comes from characters being assholes without any real likability. These characters are med school assholes: cocky, sure, entitled. They literary play with life and death without a second thought. Our lead, Keifer, plays the same asshole he always does, but somehow it’s more noticeable here. I never had sympathy for him when little Billy Mahoney (his nightmare) starts tormenting him with good cause. He deserves it. Oh, and then there’s Bacon’s old military vehicle, the only characters to even have wheels. It’s like an old WWII transport vehicle equipped with flood lights. Why?

THE VERDICT: Dated, yes. Slow, yes. Bad 1990 hair? A lot of it. But I think Flatliners exploration of life after death and the nightmares that wait for us makes for one creepy ass movie. It’s already showing signs of rust, but with a stellar cast and tight direction, Flatliners remains a flick worthy of your viewing eye.





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