Director – Tony Krantz, Screenplay – Erik Jendresen, Producers – Tony Krantz, Dan Myrick, Shawn Papazian & John Shiban, Photography – Dermott Downs, Music – Peter Golub, Songs – Bird York, Visual Effects – Level 3 Post, Special Effects Supervisor – Dennis Dion, Makeup Effects – Dean Jones, Production Design – Peter Hampton. Production Company – Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment.
Tom Cavanagh (George Grieves), Kathleen York (Jenny Grieves), Katherine Cunningham-Eves (Zoe Bienvenue), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Mandingo), David Clayton Rogers (Billy Grieves), Kyle Gallner (Ned Grieves), Cas Anvar (Dr Sharazi), Shanna Collins (Chloe Grieves), Dan Gerrity (The Bald Man), Bruce Novak (Ira), Michelle Page (Rayven)
Immediately after his fortieth birthday, George Grieves goes into Mount Abbadon hospital for a routine non-surgical colonoscopy. He emerges from the anaesthesia to find that he has been operated on. He experiences considerable side effects, including his leg eventually having to be amputated because it is infected with flesh-eating bacteria. He believes that something sinister is going on in the hospital – that a creepy orderly is killing people and may be altering his medication, that his wife is having an affair with his surgeon and that illicit operations are being conducted on poor immigrants in a disused wing of the hospital.
Sublime was one of a group of genre films released by Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment. These marked a return to genre material for Daniel Myrick, one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project (1999) – here in a producer capacity. Sublime was directed by Tony Krantz who has worked as a producer on David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001) and various tv shows like Felicity (1998-2002), 24 (2001-10) and Dracula (2013-4), as well as all the other films under Daniel Myrick’s name. Sublime was Tony Krantz’s directorial debut and he subsequently went onto make the serial killer film Otis (2008) and the thriller The Big Bang (2010) with many of the same production team as here.
As it opens, Sublime could easily be typical medical drama about a man’s anxiety as he undergoes an operation. Even then the scenes come with a degree of dis-ease as though something is wrong but you cannot place what. We are not sure what to expect of the film. You sit for a time wondering if Tony Krantz is trying to make another Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Certainly, the film comes chock-filled with pretentious religious and mythological allusions – Tom Cavanagh and Kathleen York have the name Adam and Eve above their marital bed; Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) hangs in Cavanagh’s bathroom; the group of friends pose for a photo that mimics The Last Supper (1498); the hospital is called Abbadon, one of the names for Hell in Judaism; the hospital tv has a shopping channel that refers to Rite of Spring products, voodoo dolls and olive trees. You wonder if Tony Krantz is making an incisive attack on the US medical system that has somehow mutated into a nightmare of the soul – think some combination of Jacob’s Ladder by way of Sicko (2007).
Something increasingly sinister starts to infect the vision of the hospital – like Tom Cavanagh seeing the shadow of Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’ orderly on the bed in the opposite cubicle as he sits on the chest of and strangles the patient there. Or the surreal venture into the rebuilt area of the hospital where we see immigrants waiting and then Tom Cavanagh’s wife Kathleen York having sex with his surgeon (Cas Anvar). This is contrasted alongside a growing Kafka-esque nightmare where Tom Cavanagh’s initial routine colonoscopy turns into constant suffering, a mysterious operation on his stomach, possible poisoning and then infection by flesh-eating bacteria necessitating the removal of his leg. (Sublime could almost be a feature-length extension of the scenes in Scream and Scream Again (1970) where the man wakes up in a hospital bed and each time finds another of his limbs removed).
Things become decidedly weird when nurse Katherine Cunningham-Eves sneaks into Tom Cavanagh’s room and climbs atop him, taking off her top to reveal that she is tattooed with a tree up the length of her back; and especially the incredibly menacing scenes where Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’ jumps atop Cavanagh’s chest and starts snipping his fingers off, all the while delivering a monologue that indicts Cavanagh for the White Man’s fear of the Black Man.
[PLOT SPOILERS] It eventually becomes apparent that Tony Krantz has befallen the lure of M. Night Shyamalan-ism – a series of surreal disjunctions before a pullback to rationalise them as part of a big conceptual reversal – in this case, the revelation that the hero is hallucinating while lying in a persistent vegetative state. (Although in a persistent vegetative state, as the film takes the time to explain, the brain is all but dead, hence surely the patient would be unable to dream). It is here that Sublime reveals itself as another Terry Schiavo-inspired film, after the Florida case where Right to Die advocates and Christian Right fought over turning off the feeding tube of a woman who had existed in a severely vegetative state for several years. The case created a huge moral divide in the US and saw the issue reflected in a number of genre films, including The Island (2005) and Just Like Heaven (2005).
What Sublime eventually emerges as is a variant on Johnny Got His Gun (1971), the cult film about a man who has had his limbs, eyes and ears destroyed by a mortar shell on the WWI battlefield and lies in a hospital bed hallucinating. The film reaches a bitingly dark ending – in the outside world we see Tom Cavanagh’s wife promising that she will never let go whereupon Tony Krantz cuts back to the interior world where Cavanagh lies in his hospital bed, shattered after Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’ orderly has snipped several of his fingers off, and gets up and jumps out the window.
Though Sublime gets inclusion here, one questions the attempts by distributors to release it as a horror film with a dvd cover that features a tattooed female back and a hand holding a bloodied knife behind it with the legend “When What You Fear Becomes Real”. In actuality, Sublime is not a horror film so much as it is a Kafka-esque fantasy with occasional horrific moments.