Monday, April 17, 2006

Subhuman - review

Director: Mark Tuit

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

Although on TV as “Subhuman”, this low budget flick is also known as “Shelf Life” and, to be honest, the alternative title suits it better. “Shelf Life” refers to the longevity, or life expectancy, of the vampire hunters in it. It is also a succinct method of allowing us to know exactly what the vampires think of us – we are foodstuff, nothing more. The vampires, in this case, are another species and, as far as I could tell, the human like body is little more than a disguise for the snake or leech like creature hiding within, that only appears – via the mouth – when they feed.

The film has a lot of incidentals based around a bar, but essentially Martin (William MacDonald) is a vampire hunter. He is following two females, who pick up a guy in a bar. They take him outside, and inject him with heroin – essentially to make him more compliant. Just before they feed, Martin enters the alley and decapitates one, the other runs. Martin takes the time to burn the body in a dumpster and then goes after the other one. She has stopped a car and gets in it.

The car hits Martin and the driver, Ben (Bryce McLaughlin), stops to help him. An argument ensues in the car as Martin ends up as their passenger and tells them to drive, whilst the vampire is left behind. Ben and Julie (Courtney Kramer) want to take him to a hospital but he refuses and insists on being driven home – despite his injuries. His home being dilapidated, and he being passed out, they take him to their home.

Martin takes just about every drug known to man, but swears he isn’t a junky. However, when he awakens he discovers that Ben has flushed his drugs. He sends – after much debate, argument and coercion – Ben and Julie to get more. Ben is sent for the illegal ones and Julie for the prescription stuff. Julie meets a man in the chemist who claims he is Martin’s doctor and persuades her to switch one of the myriad pills for a tranquiliser. Julie does this and then calls the doctor and three “orderlies” in. Martin, of course, has smelt a trap; he kills two of the vampires and captures two to prove he is not mad. In the meantime Ben has gone to work, as you do when there is a “crazy” man, who you took home rather than reporting the accident to the cops, in your home, alone with your girlfriend. In fairness the “doctor” did tell Ben to go to work, but who would have followed that instruction in reality?

The extending leech convinces Julie that Martin is not insane, but she is unable to kill the last one and so Martin does the job, despairing of the couple’s shelf life. Then she realises Ben will be in trouble and they go to rescue him, though Martin seems reluctant. With Ben duly saved, though not yet convinced of what is going on, Martin sends the two away - telling them to run. Of course their fates are more closely entwined than that.

The film is obviously filmed on a shoestring – and according to one imdb review it cost just 250,000 Canadian dollars. The fight between Martin and the four vampires is done in a dark and blurry way, with less fast cuts and more jumping chunks, to try and hide that. Nothing can hide, however, the cheapness of some of the decapitation scenes. The film is also very bloody; the vampires are not neatly dusted in this.

Martin himself is obviously a philosopher, and uses every possible moment to wax lyrical. At first it is annoying and gives the film an air of pretensions above its station – yet after a while it seems to work. However, one of the incidentals involves an altercation, over a couple of scenes, with a guy outside the bar and it seems there for very little reason other than to let Martin spout out about fear and violence, it really did seem unnecessary.

There is a strong drug message in the film; Martin uses them to balance the horror of what he does. As Martin needs to heal at the beginning of the film and then goes straight for the drugs, I wondered if he might be “changed” in some way and the drugs were a way of controlling this. Other than dulling his emotions to what he sees and does this was a complete red herring and, indeed, Martin actually tries to encourage Ben and Julie to get high before destroying a vampire as it makes it easier.

In the end it is clear that Martin is looking for a replacement, and the secret of his vast quantities of money is revealed, he (and perhaps up to a dozen other hunters worldwide) is paid by a conglomerate of all the major religions, which are aware of what is going on.

It must be pointed out that there is a very strong simile throughout this film to the Blade movies, and one must presume they offered at least inspiration to Tuit who, as well as directing, also wrote the screenplay. It must also be noted that the concept of the vampire being a parasitic leech hiding within a human host was used extensively by Brian Lumley in the “Necroscope” series of novels.

Incidentally, in this, the bite of the vampires is toxic; it causes a change in scent of the victim that means all the vampires know that the livestock is marked for feeding and eventually rots the brain until the victim is vegetative. Much like injecting the first near victim with heroin, this is probably a good thing, as the ease in which the vampires’ bodies can be severed is alarming; they really need their victims compliant and not fighting back.

I was fully prepared to hate this film. However it does have its moments and the premise is interesting, if Blade-like. I felt that Martin would perhaps work better as a graphic novel noir character, but bizarrely and against my expectations he does work as a movie character – though much of the praise for that must go to MacDonald. Interestingly, after writing the initial draft of the review, I was surfing around trying to pick up some information regarding the movie and discovered it was based on a 96 page graphic novel that Tuit co-created with an artist called Naoki the kid.

All in all I was left with the feeling that I wished the film had a better budget and perhaps a tighter screenplay. However I will give this 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

A trailer for the movie can be found, in various formats, here.

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