Saturday 31 January 2009

Subject Two (2006)

Director: Philip Chidel
Stars: Christian Oliver and Dean Stapleton

Adam Schmidt is a student working in some sort of scientific or medical field, but he's apparently not a good student. This doesn't have much to do with his skill or knowledge, more with his attitude. He has difficulty in focusing, possibly due to chronic migraines. He also writes a blog called 'Meditating for a New Medicine', which doesn't impress his teachers, but does impress a mysterious stranger, who invites him via e-mail to work for him. This stranger is Dr Franklin Vick, and after Adam treks up to the 12,000 foot mark in remote Colorado to meet him, he promptly strangles him to death.

The point is that Dr Vick's work is in resurrection. He talks about cryonics and nanotechnology but he's working on ways to resurrect people who have died. And to put his theories into practice he kills Adam, who he calls Subject Two, over and over again, always bringing him back. The catch, as there's always a catch, is the fact that there are side effects. Slowly but surely, we progress through his methods without ever really being given much of a clue as to what he's doing. We get plenty of buzzwords and technical terms but they don't appear to add up to a full story. But the cycle continues: Adam dies, Adam comes back to life, Adam feels awesome, Adam hurts, Adam dies.

This is a strange film to watch, but the strangest thing is that the strangeness isn't due to the strange subject matter. Most of it is shot right up there in the Colorado mountains in the depth of winter, so the scenery is awesome and palpably cold. It's also far from anything else, so for almost the entire film we see only two people: one of whom is a gradually deteriorating and gradually changing specimen of humanity and the other of whom is a scarily accurate double of early Jack Nicholson right down to the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest beanie.

Christian Oliver is Subject Two and he brings an intriguing detachment to the role, one that I believe was necessary for the film to succeed as much as it does. Even when we get bored with the repetitiveness and gradual disconnection of the story, he's always there with an intriguing new reason for us to watch him. Those freaky contact lenses are part of it but far from all of it. Dean Stapleton is Dr Vick and he's obviously studied, deliberately studied, Jack Nicholson, not just his roles but his mannerisms and his smile and his everything. It's more than a little offputting.

There's a twist, which is actually pretty appropriate and I won't spoil, but as much as it's appreciated the film has already lost enough steam that it can't save it. The problem here is that there isn't anything definitive to say against the film: it's set in a gorgeous location with a decent script and solid acting. It looks good but somehow it doesn't feel good. It feels like it should have been so much more and I can't put my finger on why. That Jack Nicholson problem is unavoidable though.

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