Being a medical student and learning to become a doctor, always leads to students trying to play God. After all, how can one look patients in the eye and tell them what to expect, if they themselves do not know. So, conducting an experiment to medically die and then be brought back to life sounds like an interesting theme for a movie.
The film begins with Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) a medical student, toying with the concept of afterlife. Having heard stories and experiences of what the “other side” is all about, Nelson tries and successfully convinces 4 of his classmates (Randy, Joe, Dave and Rachel) to take part in an extremely tricky and tremendously dangerous experiment with him. They each decide to flatline for a minute or so to see for themselves what lies on the other side.
Nelson goes first. Once dead, he sees the image of Billy Mahoney, a child he had bullied as a kid. Within a minute, his friends resuscitate him, but he does not go into the details of what he saw. Next to flatline is Joe (William Baldwin) who has an erotic afterlife vision. After him is Dave (Kevin Bacon) who has a vision of a girl, Winnie Hicks, whom he had bullied and taunted as a child.
What follows next, are hauntings. All 3 of them are haunted by the visions they saw in the afterlife. And worse, Nelson seems to be getting cuts and bruises on himself after every episode of Billy haunting him. Joe who is supposed to be married soon is haunted by the home videos he had filmed of his sexual encounters with women. And Dave is also haunted by Winnie. He keeps seeing her everywhere, taunting him. However, none of them tell the other what exactly it is they saw.
Rachel (Julia Roberts) insists on flatlining next. And finally the group caves in and allows her. Once she flatlines, she sees her father who had committed suicide when she was younger. They barely manage to get her back, as the electricity goes out when she is under. Once she is brought back, she keeps seeing visions of her father and is haunted by them, just like the others.
Gradually they all start to open up about their visions with one another. And Dave decides it is time to make amends. He tracks down Winnie, and apologizes to her. She accepts his apology and he feels a lot better. Nelson, who had come with Dave and was waiting back in the car, sees Billy running across the road and then next to him in the car. He is attacked by Billy with a pickaxe and is saved just in time by Dave, who tells him he was having a hallucination and was actually attacking himself with the pickaxe.
Next, Joe’s fiancé turns up unexpectedly and finds out about the home videos. She leaves him and Joe feels as if a weight has been lifted off him. Finally Nelson decides to take Randy and Joe to a grave site, which turns out to be that of Billy, the kid Nelson and his friends had accidentally killed as children. Nelson leaves saying it’s time to set things right.
Meanwhile, Rachel sees her father and finds out he was addicted to heroin. He apologizes to her and she feels like she can let go. Later, they all get a phone call from Nelson saying he is going to flatline again to make things right. They rush to help him and talk him out of this fool hardy plan, but arrive nearly 9 minutes after the phone call.
On the other side Nelson replays the entire accident that took place and somehow trades places with Billy. Billy forgives him, and in a last desperate when attempt Dave tries to resuscitate Nelson, he regains consciousness.
While the basic theme of the movie starts out as something interesting, the constant death and resuscitation becomes somewhat boring. To add to this, the visions experienced by the med students convert the film from a thriller to a horror movie. All the stars have done a brilliant job, showcasing the right mix of foolhardiness, fear and intensity. But, where the movie starts out with loads of interest, it soon falls into a mundane pattern; making the viewer wish the screenplay had been just a tad bit more thrilling and suspenseful.