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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Sublime (Blu-ray)
Sublime (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // April 22, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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George Grieves (Thomas Cavanagh) is turning forty, but it's not exactly a night fat-packed with thick slices of cake and barrel drums of booze. Nope, George is following up that middle-aged milestone with a colonoscopy, so he gets to spend his birthday flushing out his bowels and sticking to clear liquids and Jell-O. Not that having a tube crammed up your nethers is all that much of a gas or anything, but a colonoscopy is a routine procedure. Unfortunately for George, when you're the lead character in a Raw Feed production with an "Uncut" banner splattered across the cover...well, a quick-'n-dirty outpatient procedure it's not, so much.

At his birthday party, one of George's ambulance chasing pals rattles off statistics about how the most savage killer on these shores is the health care industry, as hospital stays swap out one illness for another and take down more lives in the process than all of the wars America's ever fought in combined. You see where this is going: George strolls in for a colonoscopy and wakes up drenched in sweat with an itchy surgical incision on his side. He's kept too doped up to have much of a meaningful conversation about whatever it is that's gone wrong, lapsing in and out of a string of flashbacks and blood-spattered hallucinations. A cute, flirty nurse (Katherine Cunningham-Eves) takes pity on George as his mind and body continue to collapse, but he's trapped, unable to find any answers or a way out of Mt. Abaddon Hospital. Every time George seems to be lurching towards the truth, everything he thinks he knows is upended, and what few sparks of life are left look to be snuffed out by a sadistic nurse who's dubbed himself Mandingo (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs).

Most direct-to-video horror flicks don't seem to mind warming over the same few formulas. Spam in a cabin. A mini-zombie epic with some sort of goofy gimmick. Nature run amuck. Torture-porn knockoffs. As many missteps as Sublime makes along the way, at least it tries to do something a little different, fueled more by political indignation than a thirst for blood or the dollar signs of a cheap, reliable cash-in.

Sublime doesn't play much like a horror flick. There's no ominous, gruesome teaser before the credits. No cat-and-mouse chases under flickering flourescent lights. No lazy, booming stings in the score. Its emphasis is placed squarely on symbolism and the performances. Sublime is heavy on commentary about monolithic HMOs with their corporate eyes kept unwaveringly on the bottom line, and it also touches on the Terry Schiavo controversy and uses George's degrading body as a metaphor for the state of our country. I'm about as apolitical as they come, so I won't pretend that Sublime charged me one way or the other as far as that goes. Some of the commentary is handled more deftly than others, only getting overwhelmingly heavy-handed when Sublime aims its sights at the health care industry.

The 'uncut' banner seems like kind of a marketing gimmick; at least to my eyes, there's not much of anything in here that wouldn't have snuck by with an R rating. There are only a few grisly scenes, with most of them crude, briefly glimpsed bits of medical savagery. The only one that made me cringe in the way a horror flick should is a torture sequence as Sublime lurches to a close. It's not excessively graphic but still made me wince, as Mandingo grabs a pair of garden shears and slices his way through the webbing of George's fingers and toes. There's some juxtaposition of various pieces of imagery that make this scene particularly effective afterwards, but there's so little gore throughout the rest of the movie that this sequence almost seems out of place.

Sublime really doesn't stick to convention, sometimes undercutting the effectiveness of some of its key sequences by its drive for the surreality of a waking dream. That torture sequence is preceded by Mandingo straddling George in bed and ranting for a few minutes straight about how he's black Sambo, the king of Egypt, and Miles Davis all wrapped into one neatly bow-tied package. George's vision of a crumbling wing of the hospital littered with opportunistic medical torture throws in shots of a coughing Vietnamese tyke goofing around with a chain of preschool-friendly thick plastic rings. George drags himself out of a hospital door only to be met by a cartoonish CGI bird, completely out of place hawk screams, and Mandingo shouting "I know you didn't just call me a bitch." PG-rated girl-on-Suicide Girl. Magic tattoos. One-legged reverse cowgirl. I mean...the hell? Sublime is deliberately incoherent and disorienting, keeping the audience as confused as George and his morphine-laced IV drip, but it often seems like surreality for surreality's sake.

The cast is pretty great, though. It's always appreciated to see cult TV faves like Paget Brewster and Kyle Gallner have the chance to sneak into small but memorable supporting roles. Thomas Cavanagh is so self-effacing and good-naturedly awkward as George throughout Sublime's first act that it makes the character's descent that much more painful to watch as the movie goes on. The devastatingly adorable Katherine Cunningham-Eves strikes that perfect balance between being sweetly polite and sultry, keeping Zoe's intents intriguingly ambiguous early on. It's a sharp turn away from the stock love interest role. Sublime is a slow burn, a subdued approach that works in the movie's first half hour but gets more and more tedious as things trudge along. Sublime just feels excessively bloated at two hours; the small cast and claustrophobic nature of the material cry out for a much leaner runtime.

While I appreciate the fact that first-time director Tony Krantz is trying to make something more thoughtful and resonant than the usual direct-to-video splatterfests, Sublime is so intensely focused on its dreamlike imagery and political indignance that the storytelling stumbles along the way. Sublime is the sort of movie that's so ambitious that I want to like it, but honestly, if I weren't writing this review, I don't think I would've made it past the first hour. Rent It.

Video: Sublime is among just a tiny handful of movies on these next-generation formats to have been shot on Super 16, and its low-budget photography doesn't exactly dazzle in high definition. The 2.39:1 image is softer and grainier than virtually everything else I've watched on Blu-ray, and although that's not the fault of this transfer or the disc's VC-1 encode, viewers should go in with reasonable expectations. Even though its meager budget keeps this Blu-ray disc well outside reference quality, Sublime is still clearly a high-def release, boasting more robust colors and an increased sense of clarity over a traditional DVD.

Audio: On the other hand, Sublime's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (640Kbps) would've landed an indifferent shrug on DVD, let alone on a newly minted Blu-ray disc. The recording of the dialogue sounds fairly rough at times, the lower frequencies are limited almost entirely to a modest rumble in the score, and the surrounds are used sparsely. The fluttering wings and cries of a computer-generated bird, the creaky ambiance of an abandoned wing of the hospital, and the ominous tones of the synth-heavy score take advantage of the multichannel setup, but otherwise, the mix is tethered front and center. Even considering how subdued Sublime's genre underpinnings are, the audio feels much too timid.

There are no dubs this time around, although subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

Extras: Even though I found the movie itself kind of tedious to sit through, I really dug the audio commentary with director Tony Krantz and writer Erik Jendresen. The two of them keep an intensely focused discussion churning throughout Sublime's two hour runtime, focusing primarily on symbolism and the technical execution of this sort of low-budget psychological horror film. Krantz in particular is keen on detailed explanations about how certain shots were pulled off, and Sublime's recurring imagery, steady stream of political subtext, and nods to everything from The Odyssey to goth chick websites to Ayn Rand are other frequent topics. I'm enough of a movie geek to seek out these sorts of deeply technical discussions, but Krantz and Jendresen's commentary might be too dry for most tastes. They set the tone for the commentary immediately, so give the first few minutes a spin, and if you're intrigued early on, you ought to find the rest of the track worth a listen.

The full video blog about the Peruvian surgical exorcism that left George's son all wide-eyed has been tossed on here, running six minutes in total. There's also "The Shebeen Josie", a ten minute chunk of oddball footage about a social worker chatting up a demon (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) in a dingy, underlit African dive. "The Shebeen Josie" is mentioned in passing in Sublime's audio commentary, but I'm not sure where it would've fit into the movie or if it was shot as a standalone extra in mind. Last up are trailers for Raw Feed's other horror flicks along with a music video for Bird York's "Have No Fear". All of these extras are presented in standard definition and aren't enhanced for widescreen displays.

Conclusion: I respect what Sublime is trying to do, veering away from the usual direct-to-video horror cliches in favor of something more psychological and methodical. Still, Sublime feels excessively long at two hours, and if I hadn't been writing this review, I really don't think I would've stuck with it all the way till the end. Sublime isn't a movie I'd recommend buying sight-unseen, and the lean extras also leave it better suited to a rental. Rent It.

The usual image disclaimer: the photos scattered around this review are promotional stills and don't necessarily represent the presentation on this Blu-ray disc.
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