A medical student named Adam (Christian Oliver) gets an email from a doctor who promises him that, should he decide to meet him at his remote cabin at the top of a mountain, he'll show him the medical practices he's been working on for so long and cut him in on the deal. Seeing as Adam has just failed his final on ethics in medicine, it shouldn't surprise anyone to find out that he's up there as soon as he can manage, keen to learn about the kind of medical experiments that they don't teach you in school.
A pretty young woman named Kate (Courtney Mace) meets him at the requested location and drives him up the mountain as far as she can before she hands him a pair of cross-country skis and makes him go it alone, following the red ribbons that have been tied to the trees that dot the landscape in order to mark the trail. Though it takes him a while, he finally finds the cabin as promised and he's greeted by Doctor Vick (Dean Stapleton), who is much younger looking than you'd expect a doctor with such an advanced mind to be.
What Adam learns next he finds out the hard way – he's been set up! He has the life choked out of him and is subsequently frozen. Doctor Vick, on the other hand, delivers on his promise to show him his medical advancements when he brings Adam back to life. The problem with this, however, is that Vick has far from perfected his technique and any time things do go one hundred percent as planned, he has to start everything over again going all the way back to square one which means killing poor Adam again – something that he is initially understandably upset with but which he soon comes to understand.
More of a head trip than a straight out horror film, Subject Two is a thought provoking movie that makes you question the price of proposed immortality. Everyone wants to live forever at some point in their live and most of us are afraid of dying. As Adam is experimented on time and time again he loses all of his feelings, emotional and physical, except for the anger that he twitches with over the fact that he keeps getting killed – so with that in mind, he is feeling something, even if he isn't really aware of it initially. Is the sacrifice worth it? What good is eternal life if Adam is unable to enjoy, to feel, and to take in that what makes life worth living in the first place?
Don't go into Subject Two expecting scenes of gory operating room procedures or mad scientists antics, as it's much quieter than that and it isn't going for shock value. Instead, Writer-director Philip Chidel has crafted a tense and deliberately paced film that plays it smart instead of choosing to bombard us with traditionally horrific imagery.
Set almost entirely inside the cabin and to a lesser extent outside the cabin in the snowy area around it, the movie switches back and forth between very open in terms of the visuals to having some rather claustrophobic bits which makes for an interesting contrast. The pacing could have been tightened up a little bit and the movie does drag in spots, particularly in the middle of the film, but those who don't mind the slow burn and can look past a couple of the low budget hurdles (the gun shot sound effects sound fake, for one) should find an enjoyable movie that's worth a look.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp and colorful with more detail present in the image than you might expect from a low budget DV production. From the opening scene that takes place on a snow covered mountain top to the later, darker scenes that occur inside the cabin, the image remains quite strong. There are no problems to report with mpeg compression artifacts and while there is some moderate aliasing to look for here and there, it's not overpowering nor is it omnipresent. Black levels stay pretty deep and there's no color bleeding.
Audio options come in your choice of a strong Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix or a less impressive but still decent stereo mix, both in the film's native English language with optional Spanish subtitles. The 5.1 track sounds better mainly because of the effects placement and the way that the score is used in the rears. Other than that, both tracks sound nice and clean and neither has any problem with hiss or distortion worth noting. Once in a while dialogue is just a tad on the low side but this isn't common, it only happens in one or two scenes. For the most part, this movie sounds very good on DVD.
The main extra on this release is a commentary with writer/director Philip Chidel who is joined by Christian Oliver and Dean Stapleton. The three participants have obviously had a good time working on the project and thankfully that comes through in an informative and fairly entertaining discussion about the origin and history of the movie. While there are a few spots where the three quiet down, far more often than not there's someone talking about one aspect of the production or another and a fair bit of detail is given by Chidel about the difficult of shooting a movie that really only uses two primary locations and how tough it can be to keep the film interesting with that limited a range. Casting decisions and effects work is also covered as is some of the post production efforts that resulted in the finished version of the film. Nothing in here is going to blow your mind, but if you want a detail explanation of how the movie took shape, it definitely does deliver that.
Also included on the disc are three brief deleted scenes, a quick two minute featurette on the making of the film that contains some nice behind the scenes footage, a three minute featurette on the mountain top location shooting, and trailers for the feature and for other First Look DVD releases.
Section Two is a little too long for its own good but even with that flaw in mind it's still an interesting take on the Frankenstein mythos with some great atmosphere, beautiful photography, and decent performances. Not a perfect film, but a good one regardless and First Look does a fine job with the DVD treatment. Consider this one a very solid rental, or should you be a Frankenstein completist, marginally recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.