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Errors of the Human Body
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by Jay Seaver

"Is trying to give this sort of movie an emotional anchor an error?"
3 stars

There's a pattern to movies like "Errors of the Human Body" - scientist arrives at secretive new lab, discovers his research being used for secret programs, confronts the results of the perverted and monstrous use it is being put to, maybe stops it, maybe doesn't, delivers a speech about how men shouldn't be playing God, etc., etc. And while there's a lot of that in this movie, writer/director Eron Sheean inverts and twists enough of it to make things interesting. Not always exciting or scary, but interesting.

In this case the scientist is Geoffrey Burton (Michael Eklund), who has been forced out of his position at the University of Massachusetts for the fringy research he has been conducting into genetic screening ever since his newborn son died from a rare and horrible condition. He's hired by a laboratory in Dresden, with his supervisor Samuel Mead (Rik Mayall) suggesting he work with his former student Rebekka Fielder (Karoline Herfurth) on her cellular regeneration project. He also attracts the attention of Jarek Novak (Tomas Lemarquis), a suspicious-looking guy who runs the "mouse house" and seems to be hijacking Rebekka's work.

For all that there are mutated genes, retroviruses, and other science-fictional devices in the story, Sheean and co-writer Shane Danielsen opt to keep much of the focus on the office politics and other interpersonal drama. It proves to be a rich vein of tension even next to the horror elements, in part because of the particular dynamics of a research laboratory - the competitive publish-or-perish atmosphere, the graduation from mentor-student relationships, the eccentric people that the field attracts, the knowledge that one is working on something that could potentially change the world but will more likely leave one in unappreciated anonymity. On top of that, these characters' backstories may occasionally be kind of familiar (of course Geoff and Rebekka were more than teacher and student!), but even if their interconnections aren't complicated, they're enhanced by the characters' intense feelings about their work.

And that main cast is doing some good work as actors, too. Michael Eklund's job isn't to make Geoff particularly friendly or sympathetic, but he certainly becomes a guy that the audience can understand. He hits the right notes of sadness, paranoia, and anger at the right times. Karoline Herfurth is often not the typical female lead in how she pairs off with him - there's still a great deal of attraction and infatuation, maybe even love, but there's this very believable defensiveness in how she reacts to people that tells the story of what a petite, soft-featured young woman has to push back against in this sort of environment. It includes things like Tomas Lemarquis's Jarek, who is certainly not there to be liked but is also the movie's biggest source of energy. Lemarquis stops a bit short of scenery-chewing for the most part, but he gets to go from being the sort of pushy, annoying nerd to something more sinister, and he uses a pair of big eyes under a bald head to play things just a little bigger whether he's sneaking around or getting to cut loose in plain sight.

They are a good enough set of characters that one sort of wishes that they had a little more to do. It's strange, but even though he's the protagonist and the guy that the audience is following around for the most part, Geoff doesn't do a whole lot; he's come to Dresden to work on science, and gives a nice presentation at the start, but he mostly just seems to hang around the periphery of Rebekka's and Jarek's projects. The horror movie stuff is rather low key and tends to resolve itself without a whole lot of action, and while the science fiction in the movie is likely quite exciting to those who know and love their science, it's not particularly flashy.

That's not wholly a bad thing, though - the relatively tight budget and modest visuals allow Sheean to create a good human story that doesn't get overwhelmed, with some strong emotional moments that make up for any more obvious anticlimaxes. He and the other filmmakers manage to give the film a great sense of place, both on the larger scale of snowy Dresden and by being able to shoot in a working research lab whose authenticity makes it just as compelling a place as the imaginary labs Hollywood set designers come up with. And while it does present its scientist (and project manager) characters as ambitious, hostile, sometimes ghoulish, and otherwise flawed, it doesn't have the anti-science feel of a great many other movies in its genre; without being self-righteous about it, there's a feeling that discovery is worthwhile, even as things go haywire.

That may not be a particularly important feature to many audiences, and some may feel that it hurts the movie's ability to perform as a thriller. On the other hand, it does make for better drama in some ways, and that makes it a different experience compared to most movies in the genres that it most visibly inhabits.

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originally posted: 06/21/13 02:44:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 13-Aug-2013


  DVD: 13-Aug-2013

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