Monthly Archives: September 2013

Flatliners (1990)

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Synopsis:

A group of medical students investigate whether there is anything after death by using themselves as human guinea pigs and ‘flat-lining’…….

Review:

Joel Schumacher’s darkly artistic thriller is an enjoyable ride of gothic fantasy . FLATLINERS echoes Shelley’s classic tale, with an aging 80s brat pack in place of the boundary-pushing Victor Frankenstein. The performances here are all top notch but Oliver Pratt as ‘Steckle’, the thinker of the group and Julia Roberts as a frigid girl fascinated by what happens after death are the best of the bunch. A broody Kevin Bacon, sex-mad William Baldwin and of course, the dynamic Kiefer Sutherland are a joy to watch.

Schumacher lays the religious imagery thick early on in an almost hammer-esque opening credits sequence but certainly to look at, the film is a treat and the movie has a similar ‘music-video’ feel to THE LOST BOYS (1987).  It must have literally been shot through blue and red filter because the colours are just so radiant in a way reminiscent at times of Argento’s work in 1980’s Inferno.

The first time one of the group – Sutherland – goes under is a fantastic piece of cinema; juxtaposing the colourful rush of the dreamy afterlife as the camera pans over lushous fields next to the grainy physical reality, seen through a camcorder, of Sutherland lying ‘dead’ on the hospital trolley.

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Once our experience-hunters return from ‘death’ they bring something else back with them – apparitions of people they have wronged in the past. Sutherland brings back the ‘ghost’ of a boy he accidentally killed when he too was but a child in what are probably the most frightening and brutal parts of the film. FLATLINERS doesn’t however set out to scare the audience in any real way, it’s more of a thought-provoking thriller.

The film’s second half doesn’t live up, in the end, to the exhilarating opening hour but rarely are films able to carry momentum for so long. In addition, Schumacher’s generous helping of religious subtext may be a bit too much for the more discerning viewer.

I think that for reasons unknown FLATLINERS has been largely forgotten and perhaps knowingly dismissed by critics as an epilogue to the 80s sc-fi thriller. In my opinion, this is a mistake. A fun, intelligent and creative work which is only really let down by inadequate pacing and an overly happy ending.

Hotdog rating: 7.5/10

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The Descent (2005)

Synopsis:

A group of female cavers become trapped in an uncharted cavern, only to discover that they are surrounded by cannibalistic humanoid creatures who have evolved down there……

Review:

Perhaps best described as a mixture of THE GOONIES (1985) and ALIENS (1986) for the horror film affectionado.  An unexpectedly brutal opening gambit tees off proceedings brilliantly. Neil Marshall, in the director’s chair, certainly knows how to sock it to the audience.

The first 45 minutes are the best of the movie. It’s in the unknown that real fear lies, and in many respects the less supernatural terrors are those which are more frightening;  our protagonist becoming awkwardly stuck in a tiny – and more importantly, crumbling – tunnel is a good example.

Marshall spends a lot of time focussing on the complex relationships and social order underpinning this group of friends. His protagonist is an emotional woman who lost her husband and child in a freak accident a year previously (in the opening scene).  Despite her flaky demeanour over the course of the film she turns into a hardy survivor, albeit one plagued by disturbing hallucinations of her dead daughter. You have to say as well that these women are no standard horror movie fare – they don’t do silly things or go off exploring on their own. These are resourceful individuals who by the end of the film are giving as much as they get from the creatures inhabiting the caves.

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When we do see ‘the crawlers’, they resemble garbled and deformed imaginations of the GOLLUM creature from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  From there in, the film is more of an action thriller laden with enough gore and viscera to please even the most bloodthirsty devotee of splatter cinema.  Caving implements and hooks fly through necks, skulls are bone-crushingly decimated by rocks and eyes are gouged out by badly bruised hands.

A throbbing Carpenter-esque score provides the disco beat to ALIENS-like action in the caverns beneath some very isolated mountains. Carpenter’s influence doesn’t stop with the soundtrack, here we have a bunch of people trapped in a living hell of the ultimate siege situation.

Visually speaking, The Descent (2005) looks great. It’s the baroque lighting which really sets it apart as lanterns, glow sticks and flares illuminate the carnage that surrounds our intrepid troop of female explorers. This use of colour is the harbinger of the biggest scare of the picture – when we first glimpse one of the ‘crawlers’…….

If you like ambiguity, there is just enough of it in the ‘two endings’ approach taken by Marshall in his final act. It’s also quite amusing to pick up the references to CARRIE (1976) and even the themes of Nicholas Roeg’s classic chiller DON’T LOOK NOW (1973).

Despite the positives, there isn’t anything original in this film. It’s simply well-executed re-runs of things we have seen on our cinema screens before. It is however scary, and that alone makes The Descent (2005) one of the better British horror movies of the last 20 years.

Hotdog rating: 7/10