Directed by Philip Chidel
Subject Two is exactly the kind of horror movie you really want to like. Director Philip Chidel and a crew of nine spent sixteen days in a remote Colorado cabin without electricity or running water filming their intimate and independent post-modern Frankenstein film. Unfortunately, a smarmy characterization backed up by a poor performance from one of the two lead actors greatly compromises film.
Subject Two tells the story of Adam (yawn), a brash young medical student who believes ethics are a barrier to advancement in medicine. He is contacted by the mysterious Dr. Vick and invited to a job interview at the doctor’s remote cabin laboratory resting atop Aspen Mountain. Once there, he is informed by Dr. Vick that cryonics, the science of freezing and reanimating a corpse, is now possible due to advancements in nanotechnology. Unfortunately, nothing is really made of the nanotechnology angle in the story as it serves only as a lazy way to inject some modern science into the proceedings.
Before you can scream “Nanites are repairing my frozen cells!”, Dr. Vick has murdered Adam in order to utilize him as the titular “subject two” of his twisted experiments. Up to this point the film is rather promising, playing out as a humorless, snowbound take on Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. However, as soon as Adam is brought back to life, the film takes a serious downturn into unintentional camp territory.
It turns out that one of primary difficulties involved in re-animating the dead is that the gift of renewed life carries with it the curse of teen angst. Adam’s newly awakened nerve endings are so sensitive that he feels everything far too deeply, which causes him to wax poetic about how he’s “more alive than life itself” and “everything is so beautiful.” It’s an interesting concept, but the over-the-top characterization and acting result in a Frankenstein’s monster that reminds one of a six-year-old mental defective on ecstasy. Initially, Adam can barely string a coherent sentence together, preferring to lovingly stroke windowsills and tabletops as if deriving the utmost sensual pleasure. It’s all very creepy, just in the wrong way.
A good chunk of the film is preoccupied with Dr. Vick’s trying to stifle Adam’s overwrought emotions by re-murdering him and surgically severing more and more of his nerve endings. There’s not a lot of drama to be found here, apart from the audience’s desire to have Adam stop being such a poetry-spouting pansy and finally get angry at Dr. Vick for killing him (repeatedly). This confrontation never comes to pass, however, as Adam is more preoccupied with the idea that he is contagious than he is with exacting revenge on the doctor for his death. I suppose the idea is that Adam believes the cryonics work is so important that his own life is insignificant in comparison, but the whole idea of Adam thanking Dr. Vick for re-animating him over and over again just never rings true.
Fortunately, the actor playing Dr. Vick (Dean Stapleton) manages to carry the film despite the annoying portrayal of Adam. Stapleton has the look of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest era Jack Nicholson, which helps to convey an understated mania perfect for the role of the “mad doctor.” Additionally, the Aspen location is used to excellent effect with lots of wide shots of the untracked snowy mountains. The sense of remoteness is palpable, which would have contributed greatly to a feeling of inescapability had Adam actually wanted to escape in the first place…
Ultimately, Subject Two is an intriguing modern retelling of Frankenstein that falls short in its depiction of the monster. Adam’s sensitive nature is clearly consistent with Karloff’s childlike characterization but lacks the accompanying sense of uncontrollable anger and tragedy that other depictions of the monster have conveyed. In the end, rather than empathizing with Adam’s plight, viewers are more likely to empathize with Adam’s surgically severed feelings. Subject Two makes for an oddly inert viewing experience.
2 1/2 out of 5
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