A rare completely original idea from Hollywood, Flatliners is a unique concept that succeeds for more than just its ideas. A loaded cast of stars brings this story of med students “investigating” death to life (no pun intended) with style. This is amongst director Joel Schumacher’s best work.

In the lead is Keifer Sutherland, over a decade before becoming a mainstream star thanks to 24. He’s a student intrigued by the idea of dying, constantly wondering what’s out there in the afterlife. He brainstorms an idea with the help of friends to kill themselves for a few minutes, only to be brought back to talk about their experience.

What initially seems like a repetitive story of Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, and William Baldwin going through individual death experiences quickly turns into something more. Character development is limited, instead focusing on their past. Once brought back from the dead, each begins reliving a part of their lives they’ve forgotten or would rather forget if they could.

This nearly turns Flatliners into supernatural horror, but it never crosses that barrier. It’s more of a mental horror film, one with a dark side that eventually sends Sutherland into insanity. His slow transformation from an eager young med student with a crazy idea into a person who cannot deal with his past is effective. His performance is spectacular, the cornerstone that makes the movie special.

It’s also impressive how small the film is, yet Flatliners never feels low budget. Much of the money likely went towards the cast, not the production. Locations are few and special effects rare, yet the story is engaging enough that these downsides never seem to be a problem.

While a little more information before the credits roll would have been desired, Flatliners is still a wildly engaging thriller, with a hint of horror thrown in. A simple concept goes a long way to creating this cult classic, one you should see even if the idea doesn’t intrigue you.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

flatliners

Flatliners is all over the place in terms of video. The film sits mostly in a gray scale for much of its running time, leaving blacks washed out and flat. Artifacting is apparent multiple times. Detail is noticeable, although the film carries a soft look. Part of this is DNR, constantly giving faces a dull pasty hue. Look at Baldwin’s face around the 34-minute mark.

That said, there are shots of top-tier material. The entire Julia Roberts death sequence is exceptional, boasting excellent detail and deep blacks. In fact, most of the deaths look great, with sharp color and clarity the rest of the film struggles to attain.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Surprisingly, this is a robust PCM mix. Again, like the video, it’s the death sequences that shine. The surrounds are wonderfully engaged, swirling audio around the viewer with an effect that rivals some of the best discs on the market. The low end is a little flat, though the soundtrack does deliver some bass. Non-death scenes are typically front-loaded, although this is to be expected. However, the subway can deliver some nice ambiance, and a police car nicely tracks from side to side at one point. Dialogue is clear and audible, even during heavy action.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Like previous DVD releases, there’s nothing in the extras, not even a trailer.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆