Germany. Directed by Eron Sheean, 2012. Starring Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, Tómas Lemarquis, Rik Mayall. 102 minutes.
Is it possible to have mad science without a mad scientist? Errors of the Human Body takes a swing at the idea.
Canadian utility player Michael Eklund stars as Dr. Geoff Burton as a genetic researcher obsessed with finding a cure for the rare disease that killed his infant son. But his unorthodox opinions and methods have alienated his American peers, causing him to look abroad for the resources to continue his work. Taking a position at a prestigious German institution, he’s soon embroiled in a turf war between his former protégé and ex-lover Rebekka (Karoline Herfurth) and the cocky and ambitious Novak (Tómas Lemarquis). The two were originally part of a team researching cellular regeneration, but personality clashes led Novak to break away and continue his research separately…and clandestinely. Both want to poach Burton for their projects; but Novak, possessing little in the way of boundaries or ethics, has taken his work further than anyone believed possible. And it’s all thanks to Dr. Geoff Burton…
The science is undoubtedly weird but Errors rarely feels like a horror movie. Hell, it rarely feels like a science fiction movie, and even when it does the tone is more in line with Michael Crichton than David Cronenberg. The development of subplots such as Rebekka and Novak’s office-politics battles or the romantic tension between Geoff and his former student aren’t just filler–they’re the point of the entire enterprise. Science is a means to an end for Errors, and the end is exploration of emotions and relationships. The science-oriented subplots occasionally prove a bit hard it follow, but the emotional payoff is devastating.
Unfortunately, the film’s clinical tone–boosted by location shooting at Dresden’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and an earnest attempt to make the science not feel like total bullshit–often works against its emotional core. There are times when one might think that director and co-writer Eron Sheean hasn’t so much made a movie as grown one in a Petri dish. Chilly thought it is, there’s still a stark beauty to Sheean’s direction, particularly in the exterior work. Aesthetically, the film’s high point is a rave(ish) party sequence involving Eklund in Baron Samedi-style makeup–those scenes seem to have provided the promotional team with most of their imagery.
Eklund is probably best known for playing eccentrics (having played the freak-of-the-week in the excellent Fringe episode “The Plateau”) and slimeballs (including a recent stint as ambitious drug lord Zane Morgan on Bates Motel) but delivers a restrained performance here that suits the film very well. Lemarquis plays Janek a bit flamboyantly, but that fits his character’s arrogant personality. The late Rik Mayall (yes, that Rik Mayall, he of The Young Ones, Bottom, and Drop Dead Fred) shines in a supporting role as the institute’s director. Herfurth tends to get a bit lost between the more domineering personalities, but keeps the tone down-to-earth and has great chemistry with Eklund.
Errors of the Human Body is a rarity among techno-thrillers in that its characters are as important as its technology and thrills, and it proves that a weird-science story doesn’t necessarily require diabolical cackling or Tesla coils. Sometimes, a simple road to hell paved with the best of intentions is all you need.