Sunday, March 4, 2018

2017: The Year in Review



For me, the past year never truly feels behind us until the Oscar ceremony. So before tonight's awards cap off the last year in film, I had to make a few adjustments to my favorite films list.  I originally published my Top 20 at Audiences Everywhere back in December, but since then I've had time to catch a few more of 2017's releases and make a few adjustments. 

I watched a total of 237 movies in 2017 and 110 of those were 2017 releases. Here's my full list and ranking of the films I saw last year: https://letterboxd.com/richard_newby/list/2017-film-ranking/


 Top 10


1. mother!

Controversial, horrific, indulgent, self-reflective, and all encompassing, mother! is the film that Aronofsky’s entire career has been leading to, his masterpiece, and the best film of the year. It doesn’t matter if you were able to pinpoint the film’s allusions or not. A film isn’t a punching bag, it doesn’t need to be beaten in order to prove something, only analyzed within its context to better understand why it exists. mother!, in my reading, turns both the biblical Old and New Testament into in a domestic thriller, one that challenges the tenants of faith, the treatment of women, and the fallacy of man as passionate creator deserving of free reign. Continuing Aronofsky’s themes of addiction, celebrity, ascendancy, and naval-gazing, mother! is an uncomfortable viewing experience, one that refuses to offer easy answers even under the identification of its references. Score-less, mother! answers our cries with a void of silence, denying us music to tell us what to feel and when to feel it. It’s a film that shifts the more times you watch it, and depending on when you watch it, its only constant being the wrongness that comes off of it in waves. It’s a tapestry of human experience, one that points a finger at us, accuses, and tells us that God’s love has a cost, that our consumerism of art has a cost, and that we may not be worthy of either because of the apocalyptic price we carry. mother! is a horror film and horror should make us uncomfortable, make us reflect not only on the cost of all on all-consuming hate, but all consuming love as well. It should make us question not only what exists in the dark, but also what exists in the light. In a year that so often seemed built on questions without answers, mother! has been the film that I just can’t shake, and I don’t think I want to.



2. Blade Runner 2049

As many of you have probably heard by now, Blade Runner is my favorite film, and while a sequel was never necessary, Denis Villeneuve pulled off a near impossible feat of a sequel that doesn’t undermine any of the questions posed by the original and successfully adds the world’s mythology in its deeply affecting look at not only what it means to be human, but what it means to matter. 2049 distinguishes itself from its predecessor by stepping away from its neo-noir trappings and expanding its mystery to encompass a social divide predicated on conspiracy theories and lost legacies. And yet, for all of its big ideas, Blade Runner 2049 is a personal story built on K’s quest for love and his hope that he is more than a tool. Villeneuve’s film is a beautiful expression of an existential crisis that pulls the plug on the idea of individual exceptionalism and instead looks for the achievement of community and mutual reliance on others, not as tools, but as lives filled with dignity and meaning regardless of origin. Of course, none of these themes would carry the weight they do without Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography that remains unbeaten by anything else this year. While it seems unlikely that we’ll get to return to this world, Blade Runner 2049is a successful sequel and standalone chapter, that will be worth discussing and analyzing for years to come.



3. Get Out

If you look at the films bookending this entry, it’s clear that Jordan Peele has found himself in great company. His horror film, or as he refers to it, a “social thriller,” refuses to tackle racism as it’s been done before. This isn’t simply Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with horror elements mixed in, but a dissertation on modern racism that isn’t always obvious, and is founded in dueling American experiences. Peele tackles the racism found in aspects of white liberalism with an insightful eye that’s both humorous and profoundly uncomfortable. With shots that capture the wide, expressive range of his characters conflicting emotions, Peele allows for tonal variance within his film, refusing to suggest that all of America’s racial problems can be viewed the same way or dignify the same response. While the twist didn’t work for some viewers who found its pseudo-science too hard to buy, it’s a twist that aptly nails the psychological science behind so much of America’s racism and allows for the film to own up to its horror heritage. More than any other debut this year, Jordan Peele’s film proudly announces a new and necessary voice in horror and is a much watch whether you’re a fan of the genre or not.


 4. The Shape of Water

Water fits the shape of whatever it’s in, so it only stands to reason that Guillermo del Toro’s love story comes to perfect execution inside of a monster movie. del Toro has described The Shape of Water as his first true film as an adult, one that deals with adult concerns of sexuality, aging, and loneliness. It’s clear here that del Toro is performing with a newfound purpose, and while his monster carries his familiar signature, including a wonderfully emotive performance by Doug Jones, there is a maturity to his handling of these outsiders and their concerns. Sally Hawkins gives what is arguably the best performance of the year as the mute Eliza and her romance with the Amphibian Man creates a balanced look at seemingly voiceless outcasts and gives them a voice. With Richard Jenkins’ spirited performance as Eliza’s neighbor Giles, and Michael Shannon’s unbending villain Strickland, del Toro presents a modern fairy tale made willing and unwilling participants and sets them against a world on the cusp of social change.


5. Dunkirk

Never a filmmaker to be placed in cuffs, Christopher Nolan stepped out of genre fiction and lengthy runtimes for a lean historical war film that works like clockwork. Nolan’s approach to the Battle of Dunkirk is to create a thriller, a tension filled race against time with the fate of the world in the balance. And yet, despite the stakes, Nolan never loses sight of the personal as he shifts between 3 different locations and time periods to create an all-encompassing view of the humanity at stake and the struggle to return home again. Nolan’s penchant for practical effects has perhaps never been better as the aerial fights depicted in the film are unlike any captured on film before. Aided by frequent collaborators Hans Zimmer and Hoyte Van Hoytema, and a cast of British Thespians, Nolan carefully constructs a story of patriotism founded in the sheer will of survival and holding on just a little longer.



6. Call Me By Your Name
  
There's an ethereal quality to Luca Guadagnino's film. The innocence and delicate nature of the romance at the center of Call Me by Your Name lends itself well to lush setting of 1980s Italy, impressively shot by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. The idyllic surroundings work in favor of the film's exploratory nature as Timothee Chalamet's Elio discovers his sexuality in the presence of his father's research assistant, Oliver, played by Armie Hammer. Both actors capture the boyish excitement of young love and lust, and despite the age difference between the two characters, their unhurried romance is authentic. Chalamet gives what is without question one of the best performances of the year, promising that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this 22-year old actor, and Hammer redefines his screen presence in a way that takes advantage of his charm but allows for previously unseen emotional depth. This coming of age story explores the fragile nature of relationships and the everlasting impact of love in a way that is both tender and heartbreaking right through the credits.


 7. Wonder Woman

What a fitting year it was for Wonder Woman to finally get her due with a film that’s nothing short of a triumph. Patty Jenkins earns every moment of her gorgeous blockbuster debut, creating a character-driven, expertly choreographed, cheer worthy film, that isn’t afraid to have love as its central theme, and also allow for a female character to have the indulgent final battle that so many of her male counterparts have been afforded over the years. Gal Gadot’s unmistakable charisma firmly established her as a new icon, and coupled with Chris Pine’s charm, Wonder Woman achieves the chemistry of romance better than any blockbuster this year. Wonder Woman is the best superhero origin movie we’ve gotten thus far, because it creates a complex look at humanity as people who may not be worthy of saving but are worthy of compassion and a chance to be better, and uses facet as an opportunity for the self-discovery of its hero. There’s a clarity in Diana’s arc, one that somehow manages to coalesce 75 years of history and contradictory notions into a character who is believable as both champion for peace and soldier who won’t back down in the face of battle. Wonder Woman is the kind of film that will likely inspire future generations of filmmakers and creatives, it already has, and it could not be more appropriate that a woman is behind that.


 8. War for the Planet of the Apes

 Matt Reeves’ sequel lives up to its title through showing us the emotionally devastating cost of war. With an opening sequence that stands up there with the Normandy Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, Reeves makes it clear that while this may be a science-fiction blockbuster, but it’s a film that doesn’t shy away from death, or pain and its cost on the soul. While we eagerly anticipate action in most summer blockbusters, War for the Planet of the Apes makes us dread it, makes us fear which beloved character we’ll lose next, and what, if anything, can be saved. The performances, most notably Andy Serkis’ Caesar, and the film’s production design create an immersive experience that makes this world fully believable. And there’s an eeriness found in the similarities between this world and our own, as the extremism, fear, and military fetishism found among The Colonel’s men can be traced directly back to our own society. War for the Planet of the Apes cements this modern Apes trilogy as one of the all-time greats as it does the very thing that made the original series such a cultural touchstone. It holds a mirror up to our society and asks us to gaze into it and see ourselves as both apes and humans, a warring people hastening our own end by our inability to give up the specter of revenge and find compassion before it’s too late.


9. Lady Bird

Lady Bird is so entirely immersed in the voice of its director and screenwriter, Greta Gerwig, that it carries itself with a confidence rarely achieved by first time filmmakers. The voice of Lady Bird is a voice that Gerwig has been developing for years, most notably with Noah Baumbach. While the influence from Baumbach is clear in Lady Bird, Gerwig creates a more inclusive experience, one that feels entirely removed from ego or pretension and is instead grounded in relatable adolescent wandering in a world that doesn’t feel insular. Some of the best films this year have dealt with class and age, and Gerwig relates the dignity of the lower middle-class American experience, alongside the near constant embarrassment of young adulthood for a result that feels like a unique and necessary coming of age story. Saoirse Ronan’s titular character faces the challenges of expectation, and the anxieties of who she will become in a world that’s quickly changing, and while sometimes that means losing and being lost, she ultimately becomes a figure who assures us that everything will be just fine as long as we retain the truth of our individuality.


10. Logan

Logan is a death song, a painful eulogy to one of the 21st century’s most enduring characters, and a rumination on aging and mortality. There’s a brutality to Logan, not only in its bloodshed, but at its hard looks the characters of Charles Xavier and Logan, and the way it treats their bodies and their inability to heal from wounds both physical and mental. More western tone poem than superhero movie, Logan builds on seventeen years of comic book movie history for a final product that outshines the rest of the X-series and creates fascinating parallels between Xavier and Logan, and Logan and Laura in how they deal with violence. No superhero film outside of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, has so successfully allowed a character to reach an endpoint, not based on comic book accuracy, but on a natural arc of their story and their existence in a world not so far removed from our own. Carrying the dirt and grit of an old war photograph, Logan is a harrowing but ultimately hopeful experience.



11. The Florida Project

12. IT

13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

14. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

15. A Cure for Wellness

16. John Wick Chapter 2

17. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

18. Wind River

19. Atomic Blonde

20. Coco



Honorable Mentions: The, Transfiguration, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Molly's Game, Logan Lucky, Alien: Covenant, Gerald’s Game, Raw, A Ghost Story, Mudbound, Split, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, The Big Sick



2018's Most Anticipated (post-February)


1. Avengers: Infinity War
2. Aquaman
3. Hereditary
4. Widows
5. Halloween
6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
7. Deadpool 2
8. First Man
9. Creed 2
10. The Predator


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 Days of Horror- Day 31: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

(dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)

Universal Pictures
The only Michael Meyers-less film in the Halloween franchise, Season of the Witch follows a doctor (Tom Atkins in a role that so steeped in masculinity it becomes parody) and the daughter of a shop-owner (Stacey Nelkin) as they uncover a businessman/warlock’s plans to kill the world’s children through Halloween masks embedded with fragments of Stonehenge so that he can bring back the age of witchcraft. Yeah, it’s just as fucking zany as it sounds.

This film gets a lot of flak for not including Michael Meyers, and as a result it’s pretty underseen by comparison. I skipped over it for years in favor of the continuing story of the Meyers/Strode family, which was unfortunate because Halloween III is pretty awesome in that 80s B/C movie kind of way that only horror can really deliver. The first part of enjoying Season of the Witch is accepting that it’s not going to live up to the quality of John Carpenter’s film. Tommy Lee Wallace is a capable director who delivers some pretty chilling moments, but you’re not going to get the shot composition (though there are a couple standouts) and the careful pacing that made Halloween such a classic. On the script side of things, Wallace opts against the simplicity that’s allowed for the lasting appeal of Halloween and goes for a complicated set-up involving witchcraft, androids, and masks that turn kids’ heads into a mess of snakes and insects in a story that’s ambitious even if it doesn’t always make sense (there’s a very loose understanding of the popularity of cheap Halloween masks, and time zones that just has to be accepted for the story to work.) Wallace does deserve praise for switching up the format, especially considering the boom of slasher movies at the time. The corporate investigation that our leads find themselves involved in, and world-ending stakes are uncommon to the genre at the time, and even when the pieces don’t all fit, Wallace does deliver an incredible amount of tension. This tension is also helped along by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score which really cements the feeling of Season of the Witch being a Halloween film.

What works in greatest favor of the film is how much it feels like the holiday. It’s funny, and frightening, gross, mysterious, and a little bit impenetrable from an outsider’s perspective. It delves right into the folklore of Halloween and our childlike fascination with masks, which is in some ways just as important as the lasting fear and legacy of the Halloween story of the babysitter alone in the house with a killer. As a companion piece to Carpenter’s films, you can really see how this would have worked as an anthology franchise that explored our changing views and fears of the holiday, past, present, and future. As an added bonus, the jingle for the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask commercial is sure to be stuck in your head long after Halloween is over, and you’ll either love or hate the film for that reason alone.

Scare Factor: 2/5 There are some genuinely impressive moments of horror, and a killer ending. While it’s obvious that not all the plot threads come together in a way that makes sense, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is such an immersive experience that you’ll buy into the nonsense it offers enough to be suitably chilled, and have a good time the whole way through. What more could you ask for on Halloween night?

And that’s it for this year! Thanks for reading and if this month was your introduction to the blog, be sure to stick around for full reviews of this fall’s awards contenders and blockbusters.

Lastly, if you’ve yet to get your fill of horror, I co-wrote a list of The 100 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s (so far) so be sure to check it out and browse the site!: http://www.audienceseverywhere.net/100-horror-2000s-lists/

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 Days of Horror- Day 30: Magic (1978)

(dir. Richard Attenborough)

20th Century Fox/Dark Sky Films
A struggling entertainer’s life is dominated by an ill-tempered ventriloquist dummy.

Right from the onset Magic establishes itself as a deeply sad movie. We watch as Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) stumbles through a magic set for late night club attendees who couldn’t care less that he’s on the stage. These scenes are interspersed with Corky recounting a positive reinvention of the night to his aging, and dying mentor, which only punctuates the sadness. The acute sense of failure and self-loathing that we witness in those opening minutes are horror scenes unto themselves, exquisite in their unflinching examination of human failure. This feeling of horror is doubled by the fact that Anthony Hopkins, at least from the modern perspective of looking back on this film, is so rarely depicted as fragile or unsure. While lacking a powerful frame or booming vocals, there’s often a level of control found in Hopkins' roles. But Corky is out of control, so much so that his failures in the face of being ignored or laughed at, feel only a few steps shy of being capped off by suicide. Attenborough carefully establishes the emotional horror and that’s the magic of this film. The sinister dummy, Fats, is simply an additional means to explore Corky’s fragile state.

After Corky’s tumultuous beginning, the film jumps ahead a year and we find Corky as a successful stage entertainer, accompanied by a ventriloquist Dummy, Fats, and manged by entertainment mogul, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith). What’s great about Corky’s sudden shift in fortune is that it’s obviously attributed to Fats, and yet we get no information about where the dummy comes from. Hopkins voices Fats, and there’s an obvious psychological link between the two, but we’re never given any details into how that bond was formed. That missing year is situated as a darkly brewing threat that’s never accounted for, and the repercussions come back tenfold. Refusing the psych evaluation that stands as a must for his impending TV contract, Corky leaves NY and returns back to his hometown where he strikes up a romance with his teenage crush, Peggy (Ann-Margaret). What follows is a tension filled romance as Corky must contend with Peggy’s abusive husband (Ed Lauter), and Fats increasing insistence that he’s all Corky needs. Within the horror realm, Anthony Hopkins is synonymous with Hannibal Lecter, but as the profusely sweating, and agitated Corky Wither, Hopkins delivers a performance that’s just as worthy of our attention. Perhaps the greatest surprise of Magic is how little attention its given among genre fans, because it is a truly outstanding character study with horrific insights.

Scare Factor: 3/5 Built on carefully constructed character moments along with surprising bursts of violence, Magic is one of the best horror films of the 70s with a finale that’s hard to shake.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 Days of Horror- Day 29: Demons 2 (1986)

(dir. Lamberto Bava)

Titanus Distribuzione
* First time viewing

Tenants of a high-rise apartment building must contend with a horde of demons.

Demons (1985) was one of my favorite first-time watches of last year, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out Demons 2. Bava’s sequel is amps up the set pieces by moving the stage for conflict from a movie theater to an apartment complex. While the space is bigger, Demons 2 doesn’t have the same magic as its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still enjoyable, and filled with exquisite practical effects, but it’s not as startling, ambitious, or gorgeously shot as its predecessor. The acting, in which the voices are dubbed over, is of course not great, but there is a certain try-hard earnestness to them that’s enjoyable in a kitschy sort of way. The central characters for this night of terror are a call-girl, a couple expecting a baby, an unhappy party girl throwing her 16th birthday party, a ten-year old boy, and a group of weight lifters. It’s the party girl who unleashes the first demon, and much in the same way as the first film, it’s a movie that provides the doorway through which these monsters from hell enter our world. It’s a bit nonsensical and the film within the film aspect doesn’t work as well as the first film, but it’s still a cool concept. From that point them film plays our much like the first, (there’s even another group of punk teenagers speeding a car towards the apartment, listening to hit 80s tunes, who have no bearing on the plot whatsoever.) But it’s not the people that make Bava’s film something to marvel at.

Demons 2 may be a bit less gory than the first film, but in terms of practical gore standards, this film is still a high mark. The initial transformation of party girl, Sally, is exquisite. Fangs push out of her gums, shoving her teeth out of her mouth as blood streaked runnels make their way down her face. Another scene sees a Gremlins-esque mini demon claw its way out of its victim’s abdomen and wreak havoc on a couple. This film plays looser with the rules than the first film did, but it does allow for some really cleverly executed set pieces, including a great one that takes place in elevator shaft, and some gory finishes. Special effects artist, Sergio Stivaletti is once again the true hero of this film, and the visages of these demons still stand as some of horror’s best and most creative works.

Scare Factor: 2/5 Demons 2 is a solid sequel that fans of the first will enjoy, and it’s a make-up and special effects enthusiasts’ blood soaked dream. It's kind of a shame that Bava didn't follow this film up with a third entry. Even in the realm of diminishing returns, Demons 2 is a breath of fresh air within 80s horror fare.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 Days of Horror – Day 28: The Stuff (1985)

(dir. Larry Cohen)

New World Pictures
*First time viewing

Railroad workers discover a tasty alien substance bubbling out of the ground, and the goo is marketed as healthy ice cream replacement, The Stuff. But when an industrial saboteur is hired to find out the secret of The Stuff’s addictive power, he finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse that stretches across America.

Credit where credit’s due- for a B horror movie made for less than two million dollars, The Stuff has an expansive scope that goes above and beyond what a lot of horror movies were doing at the time. Initially focusing on the separate stories of saboteur David “Mo” Rutherford’s (Michael Moriarty) industrial espionage, and a young boy named Jason coming to terms with his family’s addiction to The Stuff, Cohen looks at the power of consumerism on multiple levels. Labeled as satirical horror, The Stuff is actually right on target in its analysis of consumer fads, aggressively inescapable advertisements (those jingles!) and the kind of cult mentality that arises from new products. While Cohen is known as a B-movie filmmaker extraordinaire, his films also tackle issues and agendas that elevate them to highest heights of the B-movie catalogue. Yes, The Stuff is a revealing reflection of humanity, but it’s also batshit crazy.

Michael Moriarty operates a whole other level in this film, his tics and deliveries a highlight in every scene. Nearly every line uttered is quotable (“They call me “Mo” because I always want mo,” “Are you eating it…or is it eating you?”) Once Mo discovers that The Stuff is turning people into mindless masses with a need only to consume more of The Stuff, and destroy those who would prevent them, his path crosses with Jason’s. From there, they and The Stuff’s advertising lead Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), plot to destroy the factory mining The Stuff. This ultimately sees them teaming up with an independent militia led by Paul Sorvino and battling Stuff-addled hordes. While the film’s blending of horror and humor doesn’t always gel, and the film’s scares never quite tops the scene where Jason’s family tries to force him to eat the stuff, there’s a glut of oddness and gross out moments. The Stuff is ultimately a rather charming blend of social message and creature feature that feels like an 80s take on the monster movies of the 50s.

Scare Factor: 1/5 While more strange than scary, The Stuff is a memorable blending of genres with some fascinating and committed creative decisions. “Enough is never enough.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 Days of Horror- Day 27: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

(dir. Neil Jordan)

Warner Bros.
A vampire details his decades spanning life story of loneliness, love, and dark urges to a curious reporter.

Interview with the Vampire has the dark, richly alluring mystique that the very best vampire films are composed of. There’s a bold theatricality to it, multiplied by delicious, scenery-chewing performances by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise’s portrayals of Anne Rice’s famed Vampire Chronicles characters, Louis and Lestat. Despite the theatricality, and over-the-top moments, Interview with the Vampire takes itself seriously. Jordan approaches the vampire movie like a prestige picture, and carefully plots the course for these characters in a way that relies on genuine emotion, and thus illicits genuine emotion from the viewer. Within a wraparound set in 90s New York, Louis tells his story of how he was turned from a widowed plantation owner in New Orleans, to a vampire reluctant to shed himself of his humanity. Alongside his maker, Lestat, he forms a friendship and implied sexual relationship, that lasts for decades. But their relationship begins to wither upon their adoption of the eternally youthful vampire child, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). What ensues is a battle of vampire morality as Lestat urges Claudia to give into her darker humanity, while Louis hopes to maintain her innocence, and thus his own.

There’s a sprawling mythology within the film, rules and sects, and worldly vampires like Armand (Antonio Banderas) who give this world the feeling of being lived in. What’s interesting is that although Louis is our lead, and the other vampires end up as antagonists of sorts, each of these characters could make for a worthy protagonist (and they have in Rice’s expansive series of novels). The film isn’t interested in these characters as archetypical villains, but real characters navigating the moral quandaries that living forever and living off other people entails. There’s a bitter loneliness in the questions that the vampires’ face, and the film never strays too far from that moroseness even in its moments of black levity. While the film excels on a level of pure entertainment (Pitt dispatching a theater company of vampires with a scythe), it’s the honesty internal struggle of these characters that makes Interview with the Vampire a classic of its kind.

Scare Factor: 2/5 More poetic and epic, in true novelistic fashion, than genuinely frightening, Interview with the Vampire still stands as one of our strongest vampire films. Compelling characterizations, lavish costume and productions designs, and unrestrained helpings of blood and gore, there’s a lot to love about Jordan’s first foray into the vampire subgenre. It’s a shame that Rice’s subsequent novels weren’t adapted with this cast. Pair it with Jordan’s 2012 vampire film, Byzantium, and you’ll find there’s still plenty of juice coursing through the veins of one of horrors most classic creatures.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 Days of Horror- Day 26: Flatliners (1990)

(dir. Joel Schumacher)

Columbia Pictures
On Halloween night, five medical students undergo an experiment to find out what lies beyond death, but they bring manifestations of their sins back with them.

Despite coming in immediately after the tail-end of 80s horror, Flatliners set a precedent for 90s horror. While other early 90s films still felt distinctly stuck in 80s mentality, Flatliners shrugs off those trappings, opting for a moody high-concept, slightly cerebral-minded film that straddles the line between genres. Schumacher, and screenwriter Peter Filardi, who also wrote defining 90s horror flick, The Craft, do an admirable job of venturing into new territory and creating a new mythology that doesn’t feel like a reworking or copycat of other films. Flatliners also looks like it has money (and a shit ton of fog machines) behind it, and whether you love or hate Schumacher, the guy has always delivered top notch set pieces and productions. While 90s horror isn’t held in quite the same nostalgic regard as those from the 80s, it’s hard not to admit that the properties that came from major studios had quality production values even when the narratives missed the mark. Flatliners is also noteworthy for its charismatic cast of big name stars, (Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt), stepping away from the novice newcomers and C-listers that defined much of the previous decade. While it’s by no means a great film, and I personally prefer Schumacher’s other venture into the horror genre, The Lost Boys, Flatliners feels like a significant step in the evolution of horror.

The central question of what exists after death is always a fascinating concept to start with, and Flatliners creates a feasible pseudo-scientific method to answer this question. But the question and resulting foray into horror doesn’t work without an interesting group of characters behind it. While an emotional connection between the viewer and the characters is never quite struck, this group of college students are at least interesting reflections of their neo-grunge world, and are individually defined by their own desires, longings, and torments. If there’s one major flaw to Flatliners, it’s that none of the characters are morally compromised enough. Sutherland’s Nelson, haunted by a boy who he and his classmates accidently made fall to his death as children, and Baldwin’s Joe, a sex addict who repeatedly cheats on his wife, come the closest to moral failure. But they are also too situated as charming leads for the film to entirely allow for their ruination.  Robert’s Rachel, haunted by the death of her father, and Bacon’s David, tormented by a girl he’d bullied as a child, seem less at fault for their sins, or are at least placed within more normalized positions of guilt. The characters are forced to face their guilt after flatlining and bringing physical manifestations of their sins back with them into the physical world. But the film never pushes that concept all the way, and the terrors unleashed by these characters seem like timid toe-dipping into tepid horror, when the narrative calls for something more soul shattering.

Scare Factor: 1/5 Flatliners is entertaining, conceptually interesting, and well-performed by some of our finest actors, but it’s hard not wish that the film was harder on these characters, and didn’t offer so clean a resolution. Flatliners is built on the idea of forgiveness, but sometimes actions can’t be forgiven and that’s a far more frightening territory to venture into.