This Day in Horror

18 October 2013

Subject Two 2006 - REVIEW by Chris Young


Subject Two: A Post Modern Prometheus

There was a time when I could only squeeze in a necessary horror film fix during my one hour lunch break. I had a portable DVD player and would pick up something to eat and watch around 40 minutes of some film in my car, usually in a parking lot. It may sound dreary, but that became the highlight of my day. It was during this period that I picked up a copy of Subject Two, written and directed by Philip Chidel.

It starts out quite simply. A medical student by the name of Adam, played by Christian Oliver, is suffering excruciating migraines and flunking out of his medical ethics class. Desperate, he answers an online ad to assist a Dr. Franklin Vick (Dean Stapleton) with some experimental research in a remote cabin away from civilization. There's nothing ominous about about the Doctor’s isolated retreat. The snow covered hillsides and well kept chalet are pleasant and reminiscent of a travelogue. Upon arrival, Dr. Vick has a pleasant talk with Adam about the project, Adam agrees to participate…… and that is all I have to say about the plot for fear of ruining the many fine surprises to come before the end.

What I will say is that I soon came to realize this was an inventive and wholly original take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. For instance, the doctor's name is “Franklin Vick” (instead of Victor Frankenstein), and the young doctor, "Adam," is the first "new man" etc. The movie brings up questions of medical ethics, as in when Adam’s professor is concerned about his lack of moral direction. It touches on what it means to be alive, like the moment when a character is reveling in the sensation of rubbing fingers across the surface of a metal pot. It has escalating violence, including multiple murders by various means, and even a scene of two characters pursuing each other through the snow. All of these owe something to the novel.

Events do become slightly repetitive, but it only works to further the plot. In fact, the redundancy simply highlights the key differences in the results of each experiment, keeping us waiting for the next variation in strategy and making the character arcs even more apparent. Clues are dropped like breadcrumbs throughout (pay particular attention to the discussion of the fate of Subject #1) and, as we get used to the routine, a sense of dread begins to build. Clever red herrings take advantage of our expectations until we are gifted with a beauty of an ending and one of the most satisfying denouements I have ever seen.

To maintain surprise I will not go into depth concerning the actual script or actors except to say the performances and casting are excellent, and there is real talent exhibited throughout. I was completely engaged by the understated horror of the situation. Truly, in this case, less is more.

As far as I can tell from my web search, director Philip Chidel has done little or nothing since. If this was his one dream project then he certainly did it well. In my view, it is an exceptional example of low budget filmmaking that doesn’t look low-budget or unprofessional. From what I saw on the dvd's extra features, it appears the cast and director doubled as crew, shooting entirely on location and lugging a ton of equipment and supplies up a snow covered mountain with snow mobiles that frequently became stuck or tipped over. I think the enthusiasm and ingenuity comes out in the finished product, and I've seen many films with budgets both large and small that didn't come close to the overall quality of this movie.I love Subject Two for what it is and what it isn’t. It’s a clever homage to Shelley’s classic and a unique story on its own - without being a cheap knockoff. I have to give it one of the highest forms of praise I know: I’m jealous that I didn't make it first.

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