There are a few dependable subgenres of the horror film: the ghost story, the slasher flick, sci-fi/alien invasion, and the man-in-a-suit monster movie. Then there's the "medical terror" film, usually set in a hospital or some other sinister institution, and involving mad doctors, botched experiments, and various other grisly happenings involving sawed-off body parts. Though there have been few outright examples of RX horror doing gangbusters at the box office (save perhaps for 1979's 'Coma'), Hollywood never tires of trying out the concept, decade after decade.
Which leads us to the direct-to-video 'Sublime,' which follows in the footsteps of such forgettable medical terror flicks as 'Horror Hospital,' 'X-Ray,' 'Visiting Hours,' and the recent 'Awake.' This Raw Feed production (the second from Warner's in-house direct-to-video premiere division) combines all the hallmarks of the genre (namely, plenty of gooey gore), but it's a bit more ambitious than, say, 'Dr. Giggles.' It's got a topical theme, makes a few broad swipes at cultural relevance, and is generally more thoughtful than your typical slasher in a hospital. Unfortunately, it isn't all that scary, either, and never it quite surmounts its direct-to-video budget.
Thomas Cavanagh (TV's 'Ed') stars as George Grieves, who gets to celebrate his 40th birthday with what was supposed to be a routine colonoscopy at Abbaddon Hospital. However, George's chart gets switched with a fellow in the next bed, and (oops!), he undergoes the wrong operation. Traumatized, and his leg now amputated, George teeters on the brink of insanity as he battles bureaucratic indifference regarding the incident. Growing more and more obsessed, he plunges deep into the dark history of Abbaddon, discovering that the hospital has performed a statistically-abnormal number of botched surgeries, and that the ultimate truth is far more sinister than even he imagined.
'Sublime' is notable for its, well, sublime exploitation of bodily fears. I'm not a huge fan of the type of baroque bloodletting and shock visuals doled out in the film, but the result can be undeniably effective. Unfortunately, actual scares are in short supply, and unlike superior medical thrillers like 'Coma,' George's descent into the underbelly of Abbaddon fails to deliver the slow-simmering tension of a true, get-under-your-skin thriller. Like so many of these direct-to-video horror flicks, 'Sublime' seems torn between delivering the easy shocks and gore that the diehard genre fan base requires, and producing the more thoughtful thriller that the filmmakers are clearly gunning for.
The film's tonal identity crisis is a shame, since for good chunks of 'Sublime's overly-long 113-minute runtime, director Tony Krantz is surprisingly forceful at weaving sociopolitical commentary in with the cheap jolts. Not-so-subtle digs at the Bush Administration and our current failed health care system (not to mention an Iraqi War connection that pulls no punches) are a bit too didactic, but at least Krantz is aiming higher rather than lower. Unfortunately, the uneven tone throughout 'Sublime' is made even worse by the requisite "twist" ending, which isn't much of a twist and ultimately rather eye-rolling. The whole thing just never fully coalesces.
Given its considerable flaws, it's hard to recommend 'Sublime.' However, if you set your sights low -- this is a direct-to-video flick, after all -- there is still enough going on to at least hold your interest. The film is technically proficient, and Cavanagh's performance is strong enough that it's able to anchor the film throughout. Krantz also has something to say, however heavy-handed. 'Sublime' is probably worth a rental for genre fans, or those who just have an ax to grind with their health insurance company.
'Sublime' comes to HD DVD in a 1080p/VC-1 encode (framed at 2.40:1). It's identical to the previous Blu-ray version (which Warner debuted three weeks ago), and while it's an above-board transfer for a direct-to-video release, it certainly can't compare to a fresh theatrical release.
Quite frankly, 'Sublime' came across as chintzy. The image has that kinda fuzzy, overly-lit look of a high-gloss cable flick. Colors are definitely eye-catching if perhaps too saturated, with consistent noise and a lack of strong detail. Blacks are spot-on, though shadow delineation due to a heavy black crush obscures fine textures. Contrast is likewise on the hot side. Overall, depth and detail aren't bad, however, particularly in brighter-lit and close-up shots. It's not an entirely clean encode, either, with some motion artifacts and a few instances of posterization, but all in all 'Sublime' looks pretty good.
As with the previous Blu-ray, Warner offers but a single audio option for 'Sublime': English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps), plus English, French and Spanish subtitles. It's a serviceable mix, nothing more.
Surrounds are active in a few key scare moments, in which they are loud and stinger-ish. Don't expect much subtlety, however, with little sustained atmosphere. At least the score is nice and robust (it's probably the highlight of the mix), and dynamic range ain't bad. 'Sublime' does have that slightly cheap feel of a direct-to-video flick, with low bass that can lack bite and lots of looped-in dialogue. Things are generally intelligible, however, so I can't say there are any major problems with the soundtrack -- nor can I say there's anything all that exciting about it.
Warner carries over the goodies found on the Blu-ray and standard DVD version of 'Sublime' (and even throws in a couple of exclusives -- see below), though the material is presented 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only. It's a solid package.
'Sublime' is a pretty typical direct-to-video horror film. It's gleefully unrated, with plenty of gratuitous violence and nudity, but comes up short on real scares or creativity. At least there's an ambitious message beneath the carnage, but will it be enough to entice diehard horror hounds? This HD DVD is, like its Blu-ray cousin, solid if unspectacular, with pretty-good video and audio, and fairly extensive supplements. 'Sublime' is worth a rent if you're a fan of the genre, but likely nothing more.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.