One of the most popular monster stories in literature is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Interpretations in film abound, from James Whale’s classic portrayal, to less successful efforts starring Sting and Kenneth Branagh. Writer/director Philip Chidel has taken a new track with “Subject Two,” updating the story to focus on current science like cryonics and nanotechnology, and setting everything in the snowy mountains of Colorado.
As “Subject Two” opens, medical student Adam Schmidt (Christian Oliver) is failing his ethics class, and is growing increasingly frustrated by what he views as too much regulation on the kind of science he’d like to pursue. It’s therefore quite a stroke of good fortune when he is contacted by a mysterious person who promises him the opportunity to further his education. After hitching a ride and enduring a four-hour snowshoe journey up a mountain, Adam meets Dr. Franklin Vick (Dean Stapleton).
Dr. Vick tells Adam of his experiments in resurrecting the dead, and his young would-be protégé has no sooner agreed to help the project than Vick garrotes the young man, who has just become Vick’s Subject #2.
Adam is brought back, with the immediate benefit that his near-constant migraines have ceased. He’s also gained a sort of heightened perception, “feeling” things normally beyond the range of the senses. But there are drawbacks as well, as Adam begins falling victim to debilitating seizures. Dr. Vick attempts to deal with these problems, but it soon becomes obvious that something else is going on, as Adam becomes more and more detached.
Chidel’s use of the mountains and forests around Aspen recalls the arctic finale of Shelley’s original novel, with the wide open spaces contrasting with the claustrophobia of the pine forests. The resulting isolation lends an unnerving quality to the film, in which we are left to ponder what price we’d be willing to pay for immortality, and what would we refuse to sacrifice?