Film discussion

Flatliners Retrospective – a look back at the original cult favourite

Kiefer Sutherland looks outward and says to camera, “today is a good day to die”. Surprisingly this moment does not come, as you might expect, from Jack Bauer, but from 1990 cult favourite Flatliners.

A reunion of sorts for the director and star of The Lost Boys, Flatliners is the type of stylised horror-thriller one would expect from a director who had given the late-80’s one of its most popular horror movies. While the first of three collaborations between Joel Schumacher and the man who would be Jack Bauer was very much about vampirism and being given eternal life at a young age, so too does Flatliners have death as its central theme, focusing on the journey to the great beyond in a stylised manner that would instantly grip the audience and engage the eye.

With a cast made up of Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin (is there anything more early-90’s than a film starring a Baldwin that is not Alec?), as well as boasting Michael Douglas as one of its producers and future Speed director Jan De Bont as director of photography (one of the most sought-after during the period), Flatliners is as well made and strikingly produced as one would expect.

Given Hollywood’s favourite habit of remaking or rebooting properties, it’s maybe no surprise that it has looked to a movie that has become a cult favourite to make a new version of. With Kiefer Sutherland actually returning in his role as Nelson Wright, amazingly the new Flatliners will not be a remake, but a sequel with new characters, this time played by Ellen Page, Diego Luna and James Norton. This idea shows a respect towards the Schumacher original that is a degree higher than that afforded to The Lost Boys, which has had to make do with two direct-to-DVD sequels. Both are a considerable step down from an original that has left quite a mark on pop culture.

Whilst Flatliners never quite hit those pop cultural heights of The Lost Boys – the latter of which had great music, set pieces and performances to make it a perennial horror-comedy favourite – Flatliners would earn respectable, if not brilliant reviews. In addition, it became a cult favourite when Julia Roberts emerged as a bigger name and Sutherland enjoyed a career resurgence in the early 2000’s as the star of 24.

The most interesting thing to note is its director. In 1997, Joel Schumacher directed Batman and Robin, a disastrous fourth instalment in the Batman series that began in 1989 with Tim Burton, which was slated by critics and failed to be the box office smash Warner Bros. were wanting. Schumacher has forever been associated with the film, but sometimes it’s hard to forget that he was (and actually to an extent still is) one of Hollywood’s best directors for hire. In the 80’s he was responsible for St Elmo’s Fire, as well as The Lost Boys, two of the most definitive non-John Hughes directed Brat Pack movies. The early to mid-90’s would see not only Flatliners, but also John Grisham blockbuster adaptations The Client and A Time to Kill, the latter launching the career of Matthew McConaghuey; and not to mention Falling Down, a blistering satirical thriller that contains quite possibly the best performance of Michael Douglas’ career. Even after Batman and Robin, he would go on to direct Phone Booth, an ingenious high concept thriller that featured a superb lead performance from Colin Farrell and the tones of Kiefer Sutherland haunting the film during every scene. In the last few years, he has directed several episodes of Netflix’s superb House of Cards.

Rewatching the original Flatliners (or any one of his movies that were actually worth watching) shows a director who had a knack for casting great movie stars, up and coming talent, and all with a wonderful visual style. Flatliners itself is made up of superb visuals and haunting character-driven horror that builds superbly to its climax. It feels dark and unsettling in a way that is a step above the more comedic style of The Lost Boys, but in a way that one can imagine would be perfect for a Batman movie. Sadly that was something that would go awry in the long run.

Whether or not the new version is as enjoyable remains to be seen. Whilst the original is not quite a classic, it is very enjoyable; and is also one of those somewhat forgotten cult favourites that one can imagine being given a makeover that can actually improve upon it if done right. With Niels Arden Oplev calling the shots, and with the original and acclaimed The Girl the With Dragon Tattoo to his name, that might just be the case.

Have you seen the original? How does it compare the remake? Leave us a comment in the box below!

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2 comments

  1. Awesome read.
    Watched the original just a couple of weeks ago in preparation for today’s release. Still holds up well today – at leastfor me. It’s very 90’s. But so am I!
    didn’t realise DeBont was DP here though. Always just knew him as the DP on Die Hard! Every day is a school day.

    1. I think it holds up pretty well. I’m very curious to see what they do with the new one. Glad its not just a simple reboot and they decided to make it more of sequel.
      Glad you learned something new from my article.

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