Warner Bros. premiered this movie at the Cinequest Film Festival in 2007, and then they released it in their Raw Feed video horror series. The movie's title, "Sublime," may sound overly optimistic, but if you think back on Raw Feed's first film, "Rest Stop," this next effort, now in high-definition Blu-ray, looks positively award-winning. Not that it's really all that good, but it is a distinct improvement on what came before.
As the series' name, Raw Feed, implies, these films are strong on horror--or at least on things "raw"--so it's no surprise that "Sublime" is bloody, at times even head-turning, which is probably why the version I watched was labeled "Uncut." Understand, though, that most of the blood in the movie isn't really horrifying or scary, just bloody. Let me explain.
The movie plays on people's worst fears of going into a hospital and coming out worse than they went in. It reminded me of the old joke about the guy who's having a leg amputated, and when he's anesthetized the surgeon looks down at him and says to himself, "Now, was that his right or my right?"
But the story is more ambitious than that. In several places among the bonus materials, director Tony Krantz tells us that his main theme in "Sublime" was the exploration of fear. But not just any kind of fear; not the usual horror-film fear of mad slashers, demons, or things that go bump in the night. Oh, no. Krantz has higher aspirations, metaphorically exploring the fears of a typical white, upper-middle-class American male turning forty. Krantz's main character fears growing older; fears the emptiness of his life; fears job loss; fears for the behavior and attitudes of his teenage children; fears that his wife no longer loves him; fears generational change; fears societal change; fears change and innovation in general; fears minorities, especially blacks and Iranians; fears gays; fears doctors and hospitals; and fears the health-care industry in general. Whew! That's a lot of fear for one movie to convey, but this was Krantz's first film as a director, so I guess we can cut him some slack.
The trouble with attempting to do so much in a single shocker is that a viewer could easily wind up seeing the film as merely shallow and pretentious. Well, it's not. It's just dull, which is probably a greater sin in a horror flick. Krantz packed in so many metaphors, he forgot the horror. He went so far out of his way to make the movie meaningful, he forgot to keep his audience interested. The fact is, the central character is superficial and dull, and one could care less about him. As a result, it's hard to generate much sympathy for him or to create any tension or suspense around his situation.
The main character is George Grieves (Thomas Cavanagh), whose very name, Grieves, is distressing. Things begin for George at his fortieth birthday party, where his wife (Kathleen York) takes a snapshot of him and his guests in the manner of Da Vinci's "Last Supper." This is our first clue that the movie is going to be prophetic and allegorical, the photograph conveying a raft of Christian symbology and a portent of Protestant guilt to come (the wife is in the position of Judas in the photograph).
The day after his birthday, George goes into the hospital for a routine procedure, a colonoscopy, an examination for colon cancer that most doctors recommend for men of his age. Once in the hospital, everything goes wrong, and after the procedure George gets caught up in an ever-expanding nightmare. He wakes up in a sweat, he's drugged out, and he's got a three-inch scar on the side of his abdomen. And an infection has set in. And they have to carve into his chest and amputate his leg, and, and....
And, of course, the question we as viewers have to ask is, Is it really happening or is it a dream? We know the hospital has George highly sedated. Is he hallucinating? Or is all of it just a huge midlife crisis built up from a white-male guilt complex in disguise? He and the viewer get increasingly more confused.
The plot moves along as in a slow dream, with about thirty minutes of material stretched to almost two hours. The gore comes in the surgical maneuvers the movie shows us rather than springing naturally from the intrigue. Thus, there is nothing scary, nothing frightening, about the picture, only one's dread of having to watch another bloody incision. To further aggravate things, the director insists on a multitude of soft-focus and slow-motion shots to intensify the surreal effect, and he utilizes only two sets--George's hospital room and George's living room--for most of the story, further lending to the film's static, claustrophobic tedium.
The one character who lends any life to the affair (apart from a sexy nurse played by Katherine Cunningham-Eves, who looks like she should be caring for Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion) is Mandingo, played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs of TV's old "Welcome Back, Kotter" (remember Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington?). Mandingo is a mysterious and creepy attendant in a red bow tie who may or may not be a major source of George's troubles. Where in the world has Hilton-Jacobs been all these years? His resume at IMDb shows he's been steadily active in television and films, but if his work in "Sublime" is any indication, he deserves bigger roles.
Anyway, I dunno. I predicted the outcome of "Sublime" about twenty minutes into the movie, and the rest seemed like filler. It was kinda fun, though, watching poor George's deteriorating predicament. I kept thinking of Monty Python's Black Knight, losing parts of himself as he fought on to the end. As far as "Sublime" went, I found most of it depressing, and I was just as glad when it was over.
Trivia note: Although WB marks one of their standard-definition editions of this movie as "Unrated" and the Blu-ray release as "Uncut," they are both 113 minutes, one minute longer than the R-rated rendering. I'm not sure if there is really a difference in the content of the SD "Unrated" and BD "Uncut" versions except in name. If there is a difference, it escaped me.
WB engineers transferred the Blu-ray picture in a 1080p/VC-1 format, the best thing about it being its size, a generous 2.40:1 ratio. Apart from that, things are fairly mediocre for high-definition. The image is soft and occasionally fuzzy or smeared, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. The overall tone can be overly dark and murky at times, overbright at other times, with many hues oversaturated, again sometimes for a surreal effect, sometimes not. There is also more visible grain than I would have expected to see, imparting the appearance of gritty roughness to many scenes. Object delineation is not quite in the top echelon of high-def reproduction, either, so, overall, the video is more than a little disappointing.
Interestingly, this high-definition Blu-ray disc features an ordinary Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I have no idea why Warners went to all the trouble of producing a high-definition disc and then failed to include a high-definition audio track. What's more, I notice that several more upcoming WB Blu-ray discs are forsaking lossless audio as well. Nevertheless, we have what we have, and the DD 5.1 is clear and clean, with the background score enjoying some pleasant musical bloom in the surrounds. While it's true the sound doesn't do much more than convey music and dialogue, it does so competently. Every once in a while a spooky noise shows up in the rear speakers, too, like the flying of a bird late in the picture, and the deep bass comes through in a loud, thumping manner, both helping to bolster the movie's eerie mood.
Among the main bonuses are an audio commentary by director Tony Krantz and writer Erik Jendresen; an extended rendition of the surgical-exorcism Webscast we see in the film, wherein a sociocultural anthropologist performs a so-called "live surgical exorcism" in the mountains of Peru; a meeting with the Devil, Mr. Death, in "The Shebeen Josie: Inside an African Juke Joint"; and a music video, "Have No Fear," by Bird York, who did the music for the film.
The extras wrap up with twenty-four scene selections, but no chapter insert; theatrical trailers for two other Raw Feed entries, "Rest Stop" and "Believers"; English as the only spoken language; French and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired; and WB's usual pop-up menus.
Although I'm not exactly sure who the audience is for these direct-to-video horror films, I suppose it's probably young males around 16-25 years of age, who have traditionally found cinema sex and violence a favorite mix. "Sublime" fits at least a part of the bill, attempting to say something meaningful along with the blood and gore. That its midlife-crisis theme doesn't say much that isn't already obvious and that it may not say much to 16-25-year-olds, anyway, is probably beside the point.