Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers key lime.
Our review of Sublime, published March 19th, 2007, is also available.
When what you fear becomes real.
As a culture, it seems we fear the inevitable, death being the most obvious example, but judging by horror movies, hospitals are easily in the top five most feared things we can't avoid. Even films that aren't set in hospitals often have significant or climactic scenes in their corridors. Considering the statistics, it's not hard to understand why we fear hospitals: most of us are going to end up in one eventually, and of those that end up there, a significant percentage never come back out. These facts are really depressing, but not quite as depressing as the atmospheric hospital horror/thriller/puzzler Sublime.
Facts of the Case
George Grieves (Thomas Cavanagh, Ed) has just turned forty and appears to have it all: a successful career in IT, a beautiful wife, and two well-adjusted kids. The one downer on his birthday is the knowledge that he's going to have to go in for a routine colonoscopy the next day. Things don't seem right at the hospital when George is greeted by a nervous nurse (Katherine Cunningham-Eves, Slingshot) and an awkward doctor (Cas Anvar, Timeline), but the surgery goes ahead. When he wakes up, things go from not right to downright freaky. It appears someone gave George an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, most typically a cure for sweaty palms. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, the events of his birthday replay and their true significance slowly dawns on George. Meanwhile, the strange doings in the hospital continue, as a menacing black orderly seems to be dispatching patients under George's nose.
In the vein of films like The Sixth Sense and Jacob's Ladder, Sublime is long on atmosphere and creep factor. Unsurprisingly, the hospital is the perfect setting, creating an effective contrast between the ordered, antiseptic world and the increasingly disordered experiences that plague George. When the movie sticks with presenting George and the hospital world it succeeds admirably. Director Tony Krantz (one of the producers of 24) has a strong visual sense, and despite the constraints of shooting in Super 16mm, he creates a consistently interesting visual space. Tom Cavanagh is equally effective as George. He plays the perfect audience surrogate, curious when the audience is confused, scared when the audience is tense, and never seeming too thick or too knowing. Fans of his work should certainly check this film out. The rest of the cast supports him ably, making their characters seem solid despite the fact that everybody but George gets little screen time.
That's the extent of the positive qualities of Sublime: interesting visuals and excellent actors. That should be enough to carry the film, but the script is such a heavy burden that nothing can carry it. Since this is a film that relies on being puzzling, I'll try not to give too much away, but as I said, this film has atmosphere in spades. That atmosphere is best described as dreamlike (and indeed, the first scene is a dream sequence). Arguably, the interesting thing about dreams is that they set up allegorical relationships: objects/people/events in dreams (or dreamlike situations) are free from their typical meanings and invite free association. The subconscious gets to play and that's fun for a culture as repressed as ours often is. However, allegory works best if there is room for interpretation. Telling the reader/viewer what the allegory means robs it of its magic. Sublime is all about robbing the allegorical magic from George's situation. One character even has a monologue where he explains his purpose and meaning. When subtext becomes text, the story gets old pretty quickly. That's the failure of Sublime: the writer and director have a clear message they want you to take away from the film, and instead of telling you in a clear and concise manner (which would take all of 5 minutes), they dress it up for two hours and then hit you over the head with it. I was unimpressed, despite the fact that I agree with their larger point.
I can't get heavy into the allegory that the writer and director are trying to push without giving too much of the film away. However, what I can say is that I have a graduate degree in film studies and have often been accused of "reading into" books and movies. Nothing that I've seen a student do (myself included) compares to the kinds of "meaning" that Krantz and writer Erik Jendresen put into the film. In effect, they rob us of the magic of puzzling out an interpretation of their film, but they also rob us of a clear explanation of their position. It's the worst of both worlds. I thought the film was a little heavy handed when I watched it, but then I listened to the commentary and realized how much of their bizarre world I hadn't picked up on. Some of the details are so preposterous (not to mention pretentious) that I actually laughed when Krantz and Jendresen discussed them. If you want to watch Sublime for the atmosphere, it's worth a viewing. If you're looking for a satisfying story to go along with it, look elsewhere.
Whatever my feelings on the film, this Blu-ray disc is a tough one to judge. Sublime was filmed on a scant budget in the Super 16mm format, which means that the source is never going to look great. I noticed the most difficulty with some of the scenes that were sparsely lit, with speckling and grain making frequent appearances. However, detail was pretty strong and color saturation was excellent. It's probably the best 16mm print I've seen on home video, but those used to newly minted transfers of big-budget films might find it annoying. The sound is pretty flat and lifeless. It conveys the dialogue, but that's about it.
In addition to the aforementioned commentary, the extras feature the entire episode of Dr. Falk's show that Ned watches in the movie. It's a nice addition for the fans. Also included is a short scene set in an African juke joint. No context is given so that we can determine if it's a scene from the film or a teaser, but it's interesting to watch once.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I did like the ending. If it had been attached to a 15-minute short film, I would have cheered since it's an interesting interpretation of a common event (I won't say more to avoid spoilers). If you need another atmospheric creepfest to get you through the night, then Sublime will work if you don't try to look too deeply into it.
I like atmosphere as much as the next guy, but tethering it to a half-baked idea and beating the audience over the head with it is unnecessary. However, the film isn't all bad. Krantz has an interesting visual style and the actors are all top-notch. I just hope that any future projects between them have a more engaging script.
Sublime is anything but. Guilty.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Director Tony Krantz and Writer Erik Jendresen
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