Subject Two

Director: Philip Chidel
Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton, Courtney Mace

I am really glad to be living in this point of history than any time in the past. One reason is that the standard of human life is much better and possible than even just one hundred years ago. I don't fancy living in a log cabin and relying on fire in a fireplace to keep warm and heat everything from my bath water to my dinner. But another reason is that it seems that every day, mankind has made a new great achievement in the world of science and technology. I always love to hear how scientists have in one way or another made humans a cleverer species. I can only wonder what scientists will achieve in the future, and hope that I will be around to see some great achievements. One possible future invention that I would love to see become a reality would be the perfection of fusion energy. Can you imagine it? Unlimited power for everyone for what would seem to be forever. However, my research on the topic uncovered this article that suggests that we might have to wait a long, long time before even small scale tests of fusion energy efforts prove to be promising. Another invention that I would like to see come during my lifetime would be the technology to travel as fast as light - or maybe even faster than that speed. Traveling to other planets in our solar system would be possible... if you don't count the fact that spaceships that could travel so fast would have to also have a strong enough shielding system to protect themselves from the various bits of debris that are floating around in "empty" space. Needless to say, I hope scientists manage to perfect shielding protection as well.

But while there are many possible inventions that I hope that scientists will perfect some day, there are also a few proposed feats of technology that I feel in my gut that mankind maybe shouldn't try to achieve. One such possible invention that I'm wary about is artificial intelligence. True, I could see some possible benefits for mankind with such a technology. But in many books and movies, it has been demonstrated that artificial intelligence could get machines to rebel against mankind and try to destroy us. Speaking of books and movies, that is also the source of my doubt about another possible scientific achievement. And that would be the ability to bring the dead back to life. Oh, I suppose I can see where that technology might have some use. What if, for example, someone died on the way to the hospital? The corpse upon delivery could be reanimated by doctors. Maybe it could also be used to resurrect great minds. Albert Einstein's brain is kept in a jar - what if it could be brought back to life? All of that sounds good... at first. Maybe bringing the dead back to life would work on a fresh corpse, but what about one that has been dead for several days? The body immediately starts to deteriorate upon death. What would a person be like if they were brought back to life in a rotting body? Something tells me they would be somewhat unhappy... that is, if their brain was still functioning well. My guess is that mentally as well as physically, a resurrected corpse would not be in very good shape as well. The so-called lucky individual would probably be a blubbering or downright insane shell of his or her former self.

As I said, my cynical feeling about bringing the dead back to life comes from the many books and movies I have seen tackling the topic, from works like Frankenstein to Pet Sematary. As I type this, no positive written or filmed examples of individuals coming back from the dead Subject Twoimmediately come to my mind (at least if you don't count the Bible, both the original text and filmed examples.) The reason for that seems to be simple: A happy depiction of someone returning from the dead leads to less dramatic possibilities than one that is more negative. I must admit that even while I find the idea of bringing the dead back to life icky, I would rather watch a cynical cinematic look at the subject than one that was more positive. More chance for some good exploitation, like gore and horror, for one thing. Subject Two seemed to promise it would be filled with those things, getting an "R" rating from the MPAA for "violence and language", according to the DVD case. Every horror movie involving the dead coming back to life needs a mad scientist, and in Subject Two, that position is filled by one Doctor Franklin Vick (Stapleton). In his remote cabin located in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains, Vick feels he has stumbled upon a new serum he himself has concocted up that brings the dead back to life. All he needs now is a test subject to use it on. Though you might think that Vick seeks out an ideal corpse, that's not exactly what he does. Instead, Vick manages to find a man named Adam (Oliver, Saved By The Bell: The New Class). Luring Adam to his cabin, Vick kills Adam and brings him back to life. Instead of being upset, Adam seems willing to volunteer to be killed more times so that Vick can use the serum on him. And that's what happens - Adam is killed several times and brought back to life by Vick's serum. Sounds good, but soon some troubling complications start to appear...

There were a couple of other things about Subject Two that intrigued me enough to sit down and watch it. First, it was an official entry in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival; obviously the festival upon viewing its screener thought that it could appeal to a sizable audience. Second, it was done on a microbudget - less than $30,000, according to one report my research uncovered. Despite the former fact, with the latter fact concerning the movie's budget, I couldn't help but wonder if writer and director Philip Chidel was able to produce a movie of high quality in more than one aspect. For starters, such a low budget means that the acting pool willing to work for so little would be limited. This may explain why I found the acting by the two leads to be unsatisfying. As the title figure, I found Christian Oliver hard to get a handle on. In the opening scenes, he's not only a little aloof and snotty, he doesn't seem able to make his character an interesting aloof and snotty figure. He does become more palatable later on in the movie, but his performance seems a little forced, as if he's unsure what Chidel wanted of him scene after scene. As for Dean Stapleton, he tries to inject a little insanity into his voice to make his character a mad scientist, albeit one that is more believable than usual. And there are some scenes where he does nail it, like when his character sees the Adam get up and walk after being resurrected for the first time. Despite some good moments like these, there are other moments when Stapleton's performance is distracting from the narrative. He seems to in these moments channelling Jack Nicholson, and while he doesn't go all out like Nicholson has often done in movies, it all the same feels like we are watching a performance rather than a character who has come to life and is real.

Oddly, both Oliver and Stapleton, despite their different and flawed acting styles, do manage to sometimes manufacture a believable rapport in their scenes together. So director Chidel did at least know some aspect of how to generate acceptable acting by his cast. And in the director's chair, he does stage some scenes well. He does manage to generate for this remote setting a feeling of isolation and cold. And occasionally there is a scene with some genuine shock or impact, like when Vick kills Adam for the first time. But for the most part, I didn't think Subject Two was particularly well directed. Certainly the low budget didn't help, ranging from cinematography that on occasion resembles something shot on videotape to establishing shots missing from the start of more than one scene. But what Chidel did manage to shoot is often unsatisfying for a number of other reasons. A lot of scenes are shot in a very claustrophobic manner, with the camera jammed up at the actors' faces shot after shot. But I think the biggest problem with Chidel's direction is the general tone of the movie. To put it simply, I was not particularly shaken by the supposed horrifying moments that happen during the course of the movie; even the few times that the movie sheds some blood, I was unmoved. At its best, the movie is only mildly creepy, and at its worst (which is most of the time), there is a surprisingly casual feeling. I think the key reason for this is that the pacing of the movie is really sedate. Of course, I was not asking for a rollercoaster-like speed packing hard punches every few minutes, but the movie is so slow and lacking bite that quite frankly I would have welcomed the choice to make the movie more exploitive in tone. Something of substance would have happened then.

The flat direction given to Subject Two is enough to sink the entire enterprise, but Philip Chidel does not just screw things up in the movie with his direction. His screenplay also plays a good part in the movie's failure. I will admit that occasionally in the narrative there is a touch that is both believable and intelligent. For example, when Adam is first killed and given the serum, it takes several hours for him to recover and return to normal. But there is more thoughtlessness than smarts on display here. The characters are quite thin; Adam, for one thing, gets very little time to establish his character before he starts his journey to see Dr. Vick. Because the characters are so thin, there are a number of times when their motivations are unclear. Just what possesses Adam to allow himself to be killed multiple times, especially when he's been given no firm assurance that the resurrection serum is foolproof? The biggest problem I had with the screenplay, however, was that the movie pretty much runs out of ideas by the halfway point. The movie simply repeats itself over and over, with Adam dying multiple times and being brought back to life with no real change to the story. There's eventually a desperate attempt to bring in some conflict with the introduction of a hunter (played by Jurgen Jones) who wanders into the area, but when this character makes his exit, the realization comes that this subplot adds nothing to the movie except to pad out the running time. A better director couldn't have added much more life to this boring script. Subject Two is a deadly dull enterprise. Even if you injected it with the life-giving serum showcased in the movie, while it wouldn't be deadly, it would still be dull.

(Posted December 30, 2020)

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See also: Mansion Of The Doomed, The Resurrected, Son Of Frankenstein