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A lot of things about Esben Storm’s “Subterano” puzzles me. The movie is about killer toys that hunt unsuspecting civilians trapped inside an overnight parking garage. But that’s not the most puzzling thing about “Subterano”, even though I’ll grant you that the premise is a bit silly. The real question is this: Why in the world does the movie take place in the future? Or better yet: Why do low-budget filmmakers keep insisting on setting their movies in the future?
“Subterano” purports to take place at a time when (we are told through excruciatingly tedious dialogue) the world is run by a fascist and cold government, and the rich gets richer while the poor gets poorer blah blah blah. Alex Dimitriades (“Ghost Ship”) plays Conrad, the head of a terrorist organization that is the lone voice against the Evil Government. After being scheduled for execution in front of a live audience (because, you know, that’s the first law all Fascist Evil Governments Of The Future pass when they get into office), Conrad escapes while being transported and ends up in an overnight garage with ex-lover Stone (Tasma Walton).
Stone is supposed to have arranged Conrad’s escape out of the futuristic city (actually just a city shot at night with neon lights strewn about) because she was the one who betrayed him in the first place. Of course things don’t go as planned, and soon the garage gets locked down by an unknown “gamer” who plans to use Conrad and everyone else inside the garage to test out his latest virtual reality game called Subterano. Trapped with Conrad and Stone is JD (Alison Whyte), an annoying security personnel; Angie (Kate Sherman), an annoying girl who worships Conrad; Slick (Jason Stojanovski), an annoying gamer with a weird-looking cane; and Cleary (Chris Haywood), an annoying and generally useless drunk.
If you’re starting to get the idea that “Subterano” has as many believable characters as it does believable “futuristic” landscape, then you’re on the mark. Besides Conrad, who just wants to get the hell out of the garage, the rest of the characters act like a bunch of, well, movie characters. It doesn’t help that every single one of them is so annoying that you wish they would just die quickly, except writer/director Esben Storm has other things in mind. Other things like not giving us any onscreen death until almost the 50-minute mark, when a character gets his feet sliced out from underneath him.
“Subterano” takes its inspirations from the Canadian low-budget movie “Cube”, which had essentially one location that it reused over and over. And like the Canadian movie, the Aussie picture is most effective when it concentrates on finding clever ways to slice and dice its characters while keeping their mouths firmly shut. And oh, who couldn’t predict that the uptight character played by Alison Whyte would eventually become more dangerous than the killer toys? Raise your hands if you saw this coming the first time they introduced her.
The best part of “Subterano” is the creative direction by Esben Storm, who defies stereotype by being a man in his ’50s. Color me shocked. Movies like “Subterano”, with its low-budget and sci-fi feel, are usually reserved for young men with more balls than brains. Storm’s age notwithstanding, the movie features some very good special effects. The killer toys are supposedly made up of tiny metal spheres that can form and reform, making them essentially invincible. (Although a character does discover their weakness later on.) The CGI effects are quite good and offer up some impressive eye candy.
If you like “Cube” you will probably like “Subterano”. The two movies share similar pedigrees, although “Cube” did the smart thing and completely kept its background world hidden, whereas “Subterano” dared to explore its futuristic surroundings, much to its detriment. If you can ignore the pseudo-futuristic technology and clothing, “Subterano” is a good, violent romp. Although it needs to be said that the movie constantly shows more ambition by way of irrelevant storyline than it does concentrating on its bloodletting.
More slicing and dicing and less silly talking about “the hills” and “orphans” if you don’t mind.
Esben Storm (director) / Esben Storm (screenplay)
CAST: Alex Dimitriades …. Conrad
Tasma Walton …. Stone
Alison Whyte …. JD
Kate Sherman …. Angie
Jason Stojanovski …. Slick
Chris Haywood …. Cleary