Dir/scr Philip Chidel. US. 2006.92mins.
Philip Chidel's secondfeature Subject Two begins with ataut, suggestive title sequence of two men battling for possession of a gun; asmart, sharp opening that provides a chilling introduction to the highly assuredand impressively staged low-budget horror film that follows.
It conforms enough to thedemands of the form, allowing enough blood, gore and action to thrill the youthcrowd. But Chidel is also after something moreelusive and difficult to track, a psychological suggestion of divine right andabsolute power.
It's a reconsideration ofthe Frankenstein myth, given a new, relevant idiom about technology and sciencein conflict with mortality. "You're an assistant, not God," a charactersays late in the film.
Just as impressively Chidel draws on the spectacular Colorado mountain scenerywhere the film unfolds, drawing on the clean, sinister white-on-whitecompositions to heighten the quotient of dread and unease. The movie suggestsStanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, not only in theclaustrophobic, snow-capped landscapes, but also in lead actor Dean Stapleton'sresemblance to a younger Jack Nicholson.
Premiering in the Midnightsection at Sundance, Subject Two is anatural title for the smart, discerning late-night crowd. It clearly will notperform at the Saw or Hostel level, but it's a shrewd, stylishprogrammer that should find an appreciative, probably cult, following.
The movie's top prospectsare in ancillary markets, particularly the lucrative field of DVD and paycable. Internationally, the commercial possibilities are more restricted.
But while Far From Bismarck, the first featurefrom San Francisco-based Chidel, went largely unseen,he'll experience no such problems with SubjectTwo.
A young medical studentwhose migrained induced seizures pummel his promisingcareer, Adam (Oliver) is summoned by a mysterious benefactor, Dr Franklin Vick(Stapleton) to meet him at his isolated medical research facility.
A specialist in cryonics,Vick is conducting highly experimental research in resurrection, developing aserum that he says enables him to revive the dead. Adam is drafted into his"experiment": Vick strangles him in the first of a series of medicallysanctioned killings, then drains him of his blood and shoots him.
Dubbed Subject Two, afterfailed experiments with his predecessor, Adam is suddenly transformed and his seizuresand migraines disappear. "You have no idea what's going on inside me rightnow," he tells Vick. But the process remains unstable, and Adam is soonconvulsed with horrifyingly painful side effects and begs Vick to end his life.
The narrative conflictsplays out their struggle for equilibrium, Vick needing Adam to understand thefull medical range of possibilities with his reanimation, and Adam trying tofully realise the psychological and physical consequences of his condition.
Shut off from the outsideworld, Adam is denied the earthly pleasure of a beautiful young woman (Mace) hebefriended, and the tension subtly increases between scientist and subject. Agood, thoughtful man, Adam is divided between trying to cope with thecontradictory impulses his feels, continuously suspended as he is between lifeand death.
Director and writer Chidel makes a late appearance as an actor, and finds ahighly appealing, revealing way to resolve the essential conflict between thetwo men.
The late plot revelations alsodeepen the sense of mystery, echoing the mysterious opening and powerfullysuggesting that Adam is only capable of living by returning to civilisation.
Chidel's directing is taut and well underplayed and the tempois fast and unnerving. The director smartly plays off physical space inexpressive, inventive ways, heightening the confrontation in the crampedinteriors and using the scale and depth of the exterior landscapes to project adifferent form of unsettledness, even encroaching madness. Christian Oliver'sGerman-accented English creates a further sense of imbalance and strangeness.
First Look Studios
Special effects make-up