Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
June 2013

Errors of the Human Body

Bad mutations

'Errors of the Human Body' is an intriguing, if unfulfilling, sci-fi curiosity

Errors of the Human Body
IFC Films
Director: Eron Sheean
Screenplay: Eron Sheean and Shane Danielsen
Starring: Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, Tómas Lemarquis, Rik Mayall, Caroline Gerdolle and Iván González
Not rated / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

At the center of an interesting genetic horror film is a conspicuous void of character. Eron Sheean's Errors of the Human Body is stranger and in a lot of ways more compelling than many of its modern genre counterparts, but it can never quite get a handle on its main character, around whom everything in the movie revolves.

Sheean, co-writer Shane Danielsen and actor Michael Eklund do not seem to know who Dr. Geoff Burton is, and the whole film almost seems to be an unconscious attempt to figure that out. Only it comes to no conclusions. Is this guy a tragic hero? An antihero? A damaged romantic? An insane person? A man possessed by a noble cause?

Now, before you say anything, let me answer - no, he is not just a character full of interesting contradictions. Nor is he an amalgam of all those things. He is none of those things. He's a blank canvas that nonsensically shifts personality and attitude from scene to scene. Eklund's performance is fevered and intense, but he can seem like an entirely different person from one moment to the next. (And not in a good way.) The wild behavioral and tonal shifts function in a way that suits a predetermined narrative, but little else.

It doesn't help that Geoff, while supposedly a world-renowned geneticist, never actually does any work. Ever. For the entire film. He's brought on to research at a prestigious lab in Dresden, and almost immediately he's in paranoid lunatic mode. Instead of allowing the more sinister goings-on at the lab to slowly dawn on him (and us), they're telegraphed from the start, leaving the mystery without any room to build, or breathe.

The Dresden opportunity is something of a new start for Geoff, whose life has fallen apart since the death of his infant son and the ensuing disintegration of his marriage. It's that tragedy, in fact, that inspired his research. His son suffered from a physical abnormality stemming from a rare mutation - so rare that no other person has exhibited it since, and the condition itself has yet to be diagnosed.

The science itself is where the film is most rewarding, at least in the possibilities and ideas it brings up. Sheean was apparently inspired to make the movie after spending years working and filming at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, which is where Errors was filmed. Geoff's research centers around finding a human regenerative gene - research that has been continued and expanded upon by Rebekka, a fellow geneticist at the lab in Dresden who just happens to be an old flame of Geoff's.

At times the fascinating theoretical and scientific material takes a backseat to a romantic subplot between Rebekka and Geoff - a flirtation meant to complicate Geoff's suspicions about her and the lab as a whole, but which really just gets in the way. The variable in the equation is the unpleasant and creepy Dr. Jarek (Tómas Lemarquis), whose ideas, Geoff discovers, drift into murky ethical and moral territory.

It's Jarek's presence - and Lemarquis' disquieting performance* - that provides the film with a palpable feeling of unease. What exactly he's up to in the wee hours of the night, nestled in the deepest corners of the lab, is unclear, but Geoff's wariness of his benignly menacing new co-worker draws him gradually closer to the truth. I suspect there was supposed to be some ambiguity regarding Geoff's behavior - as in whether or not his suspicions are rooted in anything real or simply the result of desperate paranoia - but Sheean never lets the mystery or dread blossom. Consider the rote, idiotic way he stages Geoff's reconnaissance mission to uncover Jarek's secret workplace. There's simply nothing to it.

* While I liked what Lemarquis did with the role, the performances as a whole seem like they all belong in different movies, though that may be by design.

Only in the film's closing act does the film start to surprise us, or intrigue us in a more deep, visceral and disturbing way. Until, that is, it springs its cheat of an ending on us. Well, it seems like a cheat at first, then actually gets more interesting, and then when you really think about it goes back to feeling like a cheat.

I love seeing a movie like Errors of the Human Body get made, and I wish it happened more often. Because even in a failure like this one, there's a lot to admire, and a lot to sink your teeth into. It has the scientific curiosity to go someplace really interesting, but not the tact (nor the protagonist) to get us there.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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