I can almost recommend “Subject Two” as an introspective take on medical ethics and the doctor-patient relationship, set against the background of a modern-day Frankenstein story. It’s almost a good movie in that context.
In fact, though it moves perhaps too slowly and quietly, the film, shot on digital video and boasting a very bright, sharp color palette, has a certain magnetism to it. With only two central characters and a remote setting atop a snowy mountain in Colorado, it reads like a small chamber piece — except that in this case, one of the characters is constantly killing and resurrecting the other.
Adam Schmidt (Christian Oliver) is a medical student who is invited by a mysterious doctor to participate in a study. The doctor, Franklin Vick (Dean Stapleton), knows that Adam is frustrated by the medical world’s views on ethics — he’d like a little more leeway — and that this makes him a perfect candidate for his, Dr. Vick’s, experiments, which certainly push the limits of ethical behavior.
To wit: Vick is looking for immortality, for the ultimate victory over death. Having failed with his first test subject, he dubs Adam “Subject Two” and commences killing him and bringing him back to life, again and again. Each time brings about changes in Adam’s mental and physical abilities (as well as side effects), and the doctor believes he is getting closer to creating an indestructible man.
A faint sadomasochistic streak runs through the men’s relationship, with Vick exercising ultimate control over his patient and the patient seeming to enjoy the experiments, at one point ASKING to be killed. They work in utter isolation in a snowbound cabin, both of them medical scientists, yet never living as equals. That imbalanced relationship gives the film, written and directed by Philip Chidel, some of its latent creepiness.
It is not, ultimately, a horror film, though it has some horror elements. It’s more a psychological science-based thriller, something akin to 2004’s “Primer.” The plot’s surprises aren’t the focus, though they do exist; it’s the overall story and its implications that Chidel wants us to consider. I think he’s onto something. This one isn’t bad, but I bet his next film is better.
B- (1 hr., 33 min.; )