Monday, January 30, 2017

Flatliners


   I'll see just about any movie with Kevin Bacon or Kiefer Sutherland in it. Together? Well, that's definitely going on my watchlist.  Why then, it took me so long to get around to Flatliners is well beyond me. Sutherland and Bacon are joined by Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin all as med students who end up running an off-the-books experiment to see if there really is life after death. Now, I was personally hoping for a movie with a stronger science fiction inclination, but what I got instead was maybe even better. Director Joel Schumacher delivers a (then-)modern Gothic cautionary tale in vein of Frankenstein- only in reverse.

   Instead of a horror tale obsessed with reviving the dead, this is one about about quite the opposite. The movie is chock full of Gothic imagery and massive sets that cement the movie firmly in 'fantasy'. But, that's not a bad thing. This is absolutely a Gothic fantasy. Our leads are absolutely each one a Victor Frankenstein in their own right. Without the vibrantly colorful style and explicitly Gothic aesthetic of the movie, I'm not so sure it would've been worth the ride. It's an entertaining little flick as is, but in the end it feels rather routine.

   The movie is almost hard to watch at times because it strains the limits of plausibility. Who in their right mind would volunteer to be medically killed, and stay dead for up to five minutes, all in the name of MAYBE finding out what happens after death- and then being resuscitated? The movie would have you believe that none of the leads are in their right minds, but then it's hard to care about what happens to a bunch of unhinged and egotistical daredevils. Bad shit is going to happen to them. Duh. So, in that sense, a lot of the suspense never quite landed for me.

   Kevin Bacon's character is the ever-present voice of reason, and easily the only relatable character in the movie for me. But, why he chooses to go along with the experiments in the first place is still beyond me. For such a character driven thriller, its characters are probably its weakest point. Moreover, Sutherland is in full Lost Boys mode. He's so clearly an unstable maniac, that not only can I not believe that anyone would put their life in his hands, I can't believe he even has any friends. He does not seem stable in the slightest, yet manages to suck all these other people down with him. Oh, the plot tries to give its little reasons, but its too little- too late.

   If you can shove all of that to the back of your mind, the atmosphere and the visuals are expertly crafted and make the movie well worth watching- weak story aside. Yet, I never felt the movie explored its own central concept deeply enough. It just ends up being a game of 'whos gonna die next?', and that got fairly old. There was an opportunity to go well and fully off the rails into some supremely messed up and visually stunning territory, but the movie is too reserved to go there. It was well paced, well acted, and the production design was an absolute treat...

   -But, if you're looking for a sci-fi/horror/thriller about life and/or death- with an academic backdrop? See Altered States instead. Or better yet, double feature that one with Jacob's Ladder. Only the bored and cinematically well versed need venture here. Flatliners is visually interesting, and recalls the best kind of Gothic atmosphere for it's little tale, and it's adequately satisfying, but is ultimately kind of just... average.

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