Horror Film Review: Flatliners (dir by Joel Schumacher)


“Our sins have come back in a physical form … and they’re pissed!”

That one line pretty much sums up the original 1990 version of Flatliners.  It’s a good line in that it’s one that you remember and it’s a line that you can use in almost any situation.

Have you gotten a phone call from an unknown caller?  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Have you and your boyfriend recently been driving across Texas and suddenly noticed that a car has been following you all the way from Lake Dallas to the border of Oklahoma.  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Have you ever had a stranger fail to hold a door open for you?  There’s only one possible reason for that rudeness.  “Our sins have come back in physical form .. and they’re pissed!”

And don’t even get me started on people who leave negative comments under my reviews.  We all know what’s going on with that!  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

It’s a line that is both oddly memorable and also deeply stupid.  The same description can be applied to Flatliners.  It’s a film about a group of medical students (played by Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon) who help Kiefer Sutherland investigate whether or not there’s actually an afterlife.  Sutherland believes that there is but he needs an atheist to be a part of the group, that’s where Kevin Bacon comes in.  And he needs a potential love interest and a Baldwin brother to be a member of the group as well, that’s why Julia Roberts and William Baldwin are there.  And, of course, someone has to provide comedic relief whenever things start to get too dark.  Say hello to Oliver Platt!  Anyway, Sutherland’s plan is to die for a minute or two and then have his fellow medical students bring him back to life.  It sounds like kind of a dumb idea but everyone agrees to it.

Anyway, it turns out that the afterlife looks a lot like an overproduced student film, full of weird camera angles, tinted lighting and disembodied voices.  When Sutherland dies, he sees a boy that he used to bully.  Julia Roberts sees her father, who committed suicide when she was younger.  Kevin Bacon sees a little girl that he used to bully.  (There are a lot of bullies in this movie.)  William Baldwin, a sex addict who is chronically unfaithful to his fiancée, sees hundreds of women, all saying, “But you said you loved me.”  Oliver Platt never actually gets to die and therefore, he sees nothing.  He does make a joke about how his vision would probably involve an angry babysitter.  I laughed.

What happens next?  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Flatliners has an intriguing premise but oh my God, is it ever a silly film.  It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that all of these returned sins want the characters to either atone for their mistakes or make peace with their past.  For Kevin Bacon, this means tracking down the girl that he used to bully and allowing her to bully him.  For Julia Roberts, it means getting an apology from her Dad and understanding that he was addicted to heroin.  For William Baldwin, it means making peace with never being as well-known as either Alec or Steven.  As for Kiefer … well, things are a bit more complicated for Kiefer Sutherland.

Flatliners starts out as a horror film but then it turns into a squishy movie about letting go of bitterness and learning how to forgive oneself.  It’s kind of annoying that the film couldn’t just stick to being scary because the first half of the film does have some effectively tense moments.  However, it all gets lost as the film’s plot sinks into sentimental, New Age-y quicksand.

Flatliners was directed by Joel Schumacher, who generally does well with shallow films that 1) don’t really mean anything and 2) don’t involve super heroes.  And really, the only film that I can think of that’s more shallow than the original Flatliners is the remake.  (But we’ll talk about that later…)  Schumacher’s direction here is not particularly bad — everyone looks good and the film is never boring.  It’s a very, very pretty film and one that doesn’t add up to much.

I would suggest watching it with your sins, especially after they take physical form.  Maybe they’ll be a little less pissed off afterward.

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