There are few things in this life that elicit more chills than the coldly antiseptic reality that exists inside the walls of a hospital room. Beige colored machines beeping and whizzing in a life or death dance, the slow-motion dripping of the I.V. While the soft buzzing of florescent lighting, flickering overhead, all come together to create an aura of dread. Perhaps it is because hospitals are so close to death that the energy surrounding them feels so soul-sucking. The latest release from Warner Brothers’ Raw Feed line treats the disease called western medicine with a contempt that is rarely expressed outside of satire and almost never in genre filmmaking.
Sublime is a modern horror tale. In essence, no different than any other moral fable. From John Carpenter to George Romero most masters in the field have taken strong stances against something at one time or another. The episodes in Showtime’s Masters of Horror provide prime examples of allowing horror auteurs the ability to comment on societal ills in the mega marketplace of television. Sublime also has its roots on the small screen. First time director Tony Krantz made his biggest mark as executive producer of the hit series 24. Writer Erik Jendresen was one of the award-winning contributors to the mini-series BAND OF BROTHERS, and star Tom Cavanaugh came to prominence as the lead on the NBC comedy ED.
Cavanaugh plays George Grieves a very successful IT consultant who is scheduled for a routine colonoscopy on the day after his 40th birthday. As George makes his way to the hospital, his apprehension over the invasive procedure is markedly palpable. Accompanied by his wife Jenny (played by actress/musician Kathleen “Bird” York) all it seems will go as planned. But soon, simple thing start to slip up. George scrapes his leg while getting into the wheelchair, and then wakes up in recovery, unable to get a simple answer as to where his wife and doctor are. Soon, he discovers an unexplained scar on his abdomen. From that point on George begins to understand that something unexpected occurred while he was under sedation. That fear of the unknown permeates the film. As things start to spiral further out of control, George, weak and drugged must try to unravel the mystery of the hospital and its eccentric staff if he ever hopes to get out alive.
Sublime is not a flashy slasher film, its not a spooky scare story, what it is, is a subtle and sprawling thriller, peppered with flashbacks and nuanced performances. The terror on display here is not of a supernatural source; it is grounded in reality and scientific fact. It’s horror on a personal level and the film immerses the audience in the plight of its characters. All around the performances are perfect. Cavanaugh and York sell their relationship in every frame. As the ancillary characters are introduced, everyone leads to a revelation. Especially impressive are Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as a shadowy orderly named Mandingo and Katherine Cunningham-Eves as the sexy but sincere nurse Zoe. Each character figures further in the story as George Grieves reality slowly slips away.
The big falter that the film suffers is in taking the ending too far into the genre. What had come before was so psychologically wrenching it makes the extremes that the final frames go too all the more jarringly misplaced. While the intense ending surely forced me to sit up and take notice, I felt it was so far removed from the first hour and a half of the film as to distract from the whole of the story. It seems that the filmmakers felt they needed to up the horror quotient by adding a touch of torture cinema to a project that hardly needed, and more importantly, did not deserve the pain.
Sublime is a rarity in genre filmmaking, a genuinely disturbing motion picture that does not need the trappings of cinema to take audiences to the extremes of what they find watchable. It succeeds simply by force-feeding on fears that most all of us already harbor.