Subject Two DVD Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
DVD released by First Look Studios
Written and directed by Philip Chidel
2006, R1, 93 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on July 18th, 2006
Christian Oliver as Adam
Dean Stapleton as Dr Franklyn Vick
Courtney Mace as Kate
Philip Chidel as Subject One
Jürgen Jones as The Hunter
Two men on the top of a snow covered mountain, no one around for miles.
Sporadically and unpredictably one kills the other, brings him back to life, and then kills him again, over and over and over.
Subject Two is an independent movie filmed in the mountains in Aspen, Colorado, during mid-winter. Thematically it’s a re-telling of the Frankenstein story, but it doesn’t stick especially rigidly to the plot or the characters. It’s essentially a two-hander. German-born Christian Oliver, as the vulnerable and dysfunctional Adam, accomplishes the difficult task of portraying a man gradually losing his humanity, with sensitivity and care. In losing his humanity Adam raises fundamental questions of what it is to be alive and, indeed, what it is to be human. Dean Stapleton as the scientist (the rather awkwardly named Dr Franklyn Vick), reminded me of a young Michael Ironside (Scanners) and, despite relatively few acting credits to his name, he handles the difficult part of the arrogant, driven scientist with skill. Stapleton has a real screen presence and despite Dr Vick’s hideous acts, the audience is still able to sympathise with — and invest in — the character.
Subject Two is occasionally very violent; sometimes a little slow, but always careful, eerie and tense. It’s not especially scary (in terms of jumps and shocks) but at times it’s intensely disturbing. The imaginative and inventive script, as well as the director’s obvious eye for detail, mean there are a number of stand out moments; shocking, poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes beautiful. The best films leave you with more than what you’re shown, and this is certainly true for Subject Two. It’s as discursive as it is entertaining, or thrilling, without sacrificing the fun of watching.
The issue of explaining exactly how one raises someone from the dead is always going to be tricky. Here it’s dealt with adequately — Chidel’s family’s background in medicine no doubt helped and, although you’re left with more questions than answers, it doesn’t detract from the viewing.
At times it’s an uncomfortable watch. When Adam first wakes, there’s something unnatural about him that made me feel extremely uneasy. Adam’s actions and expressions the first time he’s resurrected (and again later in a scene where he vomits unexpectedly), made me shiver and established a potent mix of sympathy, disgust and fear. Adam’s heightened physical sensitivity early on in the experiment re-enforce this — there’s something unpredictable, dangerous and slightly bestial (and sexual) about him, but also something intensely child-like in the way he doesn’t completely understand, or have full control over, his own body. Franklyn is at times like a father to Adam but can also be intensely cruel and cold. It’s a delicate dynamic between the two, and it can be quite moving to watch.
The scenery is beautiful and is used effectively not only to establish the idea of isolation and the massiveness of the world, but also as a metaphor for Adam’s (and, to an extent, Franklyn’s) increasing loss of humanity. As Adam loses more and more of his senses and ability to feel and Franklyn becomes more single-minded, the colours in the landscape fade almost to monochrome — everything is white or dark green. The soundtrack is fitting and quite lovely too — it’s not intrusive, but instead enhances the moods, especially at the very end over the final lingering shots.
As with almost every film I see, there are slight details that I would have perhaps preferred to be different. There are odd moments where what’s going on in the film isn’t completely clear on first viewing. Adam’s teacher in the early parts of the film (who I understand from the commentary is a real Professor) isn’t quite up to the standard of all the other performers. The beginning is fractionally too long (especially bearing in mind most viewers will have a fairly good idea of the plot from the DVD box), and I’m not entirely convinced that the Yoda-esque language Adam uses after his first resurrection quite works. But these points are trivial and unimportant in context of the film as a whole. However, the one significant reservation I have about Subject Two is that the ending didn’t quite have the subtlety or the impact of the rest of the film. It doesn’t detract from the rest of the film, but nor is it quite the ending such an otherwise excellent film deserves.
Although I know the Frankenstein story well, Subject Two still managed to offer lots of surprises. The intelligence of the script, which has occasional moments of real beauty and inspiration (Adam describing what death sounds like was one speech that really stuck out in mind) and the strength of the performances and characterisation make this gripping and compelling viewing. Subject Two lingered with me for days. It’s one of my favourite horror films of 2006 and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
Video and Audio:
The team have done a great job of disguising the film’s low budget, no doubt aided by the extreme landscapes where the movie is shot. Picture is clear and crisp, the cinematography beautiful. The menu screen looks a bit cheap and nasty, though, which is a shame.
A lovely soundtrack, and speech which is clear and consistently. No problems here.
The two deleted scenes are interesting to watch, with nice (and quite amusing) explanations from the director for why they weren’t included.
Two behind the scenes features gave an idea of how tough the movie was to film in this location. Definitely worth watching but they were both disappointingly short and didn’t show much screen-time with writer, director and co-producer Philip Chidel, which was a shame.
The commentary with director Philip Chidel, Christian Oliver and Dean Stapleton is funny and interesting, and definitely worth a listen. They’re all friends, so there’s lots of banter, but also interesting insight into the filmmaking process; particularly the hardships of working in such a cold climate at this height, and the intentions and thoughts behind some of the shots.