Subterano (2003)
By: Robert Winter on November 28, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Magna Pacific (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 91 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Esben Storm
Starring: Alex Dimitriades, Tasma Walton, Alison Whyte, Chris Haywood
Writer: Esben Storm
Country: Australia
Since Tron lured audiences into the cyberspace realm with its merging of the physical environment with a pixilated one, the blurring of reality and the infinite possibilities of virtual game programming has captured the attention of a number of filmmakers. Genre fare like Horrorvision, Existenz, Harsh Realm and Ghost in the Machine toyed with the idea that our consciousness can be bent, shaped and manipulated in an immersive three-dimensional world. No longer was a hand-held remote control device the portal to an often violent, dystopian battleground, but somehow our consciousness could be directly connected to a 360 degree interactive realm that we could smell, touch and feel. The long-term effects on the human psyche are unknown, but the mind-altering, hallucinatory implications are the stuff of horror/sci-fi speculation - just how far can our imagination be stretched before it snaps. Moreover, what of the greedy, megalomaniacal political agendas of corporate executives hiding behind the hype of their latest blockbuster?

Set in a fascist-controlled near future, nine people including a political assassin (Alex Dimitriades), a drunk, four punked-up teens and an uptight female security guard, find themselves trapped inside a dreary underground shopping mall car park and menaced by children's toys that can transform into any shape. To add some visceral nastiness, they also have to dodge flying blades, slug-like creatures installed with deadly drill bits, and an irritating robot that snatches humans then disappears in a flurry of silver balls. Fortunately, it doesn't take long for a trapped teen to work out that the scenario resembles the latest game sensation, Subterano. So, armed with the linear rules of the game play, it becomes a race against time to ascend through each level (represented by the floors of the car park) to beat the game.

What starts out as a claustrophobically tense tale of lurking dread a la Cube quickly degenerates into convoluted, conspiratorial mumbo jumbo and some sketchy sub-plot about a holy mountain where men live freely?! A suitably buffed up and intense Alex Dimitriades does his best to maintain the pace and add emotional depth to the frequent inane circumstances he finds himself in. Suffice to say, if it wasn't for his presence, I would have fast-forwarded to the end about half-way through. And what an atrocious ending it is.

The special effects are simple CGI that are at times effective, but more often than not, quite ludicrous – an evil, muscle-bound Ultra-man armed with a flame thrower who gets around on roller-skates is hardly the stuff of nightmares.

Although the production was obviously made on the cheap, the cinematography is perhaps the film's biggest asset. The camera zooms and lurks around the gloomy car park like a ravenous eye, watching and waiting to pounce. The often sepia-toned and pink gel lensing also add a nice otherworldly touch.
Video
Only a thin veneer of lo-fi grain and digital static slightly mar what is a very nice looking widescreen transfer. Colours are vibrant and dark scenes have reasonable depth, demonstrating good shadow detail and clarity.
Audio
The Dolby digital 5.1 is excellent, boasting some terrific directional effects like disembodied voices creeping up from behind and laser shots sent scurrying around the room.
Extra Features
Although not mentioned on the DVD case, there are a few bonus features contained on the disc. Interviews - Four of the key cast and three crew members are asked what attracted them to Subterano, their on-set experiences and what is was like working with each other. A bit of a fluff piece really.

Behind the visor - Four minutes of behind-the-scenes and on-set production footage which mostly revolve around Alex Dimitriades.
The Verdict
Based on the structure and form of a comic book, Subterano would have worked much better as an animated feature. While the live-action has its moments, it really suffers from budget limitations and an overambitious style that fails to leap out of the frame and bite you on the ass.
Movie Score
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