Written by: Shane Danielsen and Eron Sheean
Directed by: Eron Sheean
Starring: Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, and Tómas Lemarquis
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“I just made the discovery of the century."
Errors of the Human Body is one of the great horror titles, but it’s also one of the more deceptive. While it seemingly holds the promise of Cronenbergian body mutilations, the film is actually a brooding, psychological medical drama occasionally masquerading as a horror movie. Does that make it a disappointment? Maybe a little bit, and it doesn’t help that Eron Sheean’s film is detached to the point of lifelessness. Its attempt to wallow in its chilly aesthetic is admirable to a fault—it would be very apt to say this one left me cold, perhaps intentionally so.
The chillness belies the soap-operatic claptrap fuelling the film’s drama: haunted by the death of his infant son, Dr. Geoffrey Burton (Michael Eklund) has set himself to the task of preemptive gene therapy. A visit to Dresden unties him with other brilliant scientists in his field, including Rebekka (Karoline Herfurth), one of his former students with whom he also had an affair. For the past few years, she’s been working alongside Jarek Novak (Tomas Lemarquis) to develop a serum for cell regeneration. Upon their first meeting, Jarek makes his ambitions clear to Geoffrey, as he’s willing to accomplish his goal by any means necessary. Geoffrey soon discovers he’s not bullshitting: when his curiosity gets the better of him, he stumbles upon Jarek’s clandestine experiments and discovers their horrific, body-mutating potential.
Errors of the Human body circles around its central trio for much of its running time, highlighting the various forms of drama in their lives. Professional mistrust and personal jealously particularly run wild—as it turns out, the medical industry is a cutthroat business, especially when someone intends to go mad scientist and everyone’s sleeping around with each other. It’s the stuff of tawdry dramas, but it’s sapped of heat; instead, Sheean renders it icy and clinical by soaking it in the language of horror films. Constantly creeping about sleek, sterile hallways and crawling along with a muted, sinister momentum, Errors of the Human Body feels as if it’s lurching towards an inevitable doom—it’s a funeral march with all the joy of a dirge.
It marches with one eye always turned towards the past. Geoffrey’s tragic backstory is illuminated in piecemeal fashion, which allows Sheean to inject the film with surreal interludes that manage to jumble up past and present. The nightmare logic of these sequences represents a nice departure from the otherwise dry, stuffy proceedings. Likewise, a sequence where the three characters attend a costume party recalls the fever-dreamy verve of vintage Euro-horror: here, Geoffrey aimlessly wanders through the revelry, his face painted like death and unwittingly foreshadowing the pestilence awaiting him.
That’s one of the film’s few subtle moments. More often than not, Sheean overcooks everything with a heavy-hand, from the performances to the film’s overbearingly gloomy tone. Eklund (who has an uncanny Ethan Hawke thing going on here) sulks and broods well enough but never makes the case for the audience to sympathize with Geoffrey. To be fair, the script doesn’t give him much room to do so: he’s written to be a one-note jerk more often than not—it’s as if his tragic history is meant to excuse his self-destructiveness and otherwise shady behavior. His affair with Rebekka is an odd, forced bit of drama that doesn’t serve either character particularly well—he comes off as even jerkier, while she seems desperate. The love triangle that develops with Jarek feels equally forced; besides, it’s not like he needs anymore heat to make for a great heel. From the moment he enters the film, Lemarquis is an off-putting, strange presence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes his generation’s Michael Berryman (I mean that in the most complimentary way possible—he should have a great career playing weirdoes and creeps).
Implicit in all of this are the typical perils of scientists playing god. To its credit, the film isn’t overly preachy and even has some insightful observations about the role medical science and its ethics. When those ethics are sidestepped and subverted, Sheean wisely conveys the fallout visually, and it’s at this point the film delivers on the gooey, squirmy promise of its title. Even more unsettling is the final gut-punch that lands among all of this: with his body deteriorating, Geoffrey is forced to fully reckon with the true tragedy that he’s been repressing since his child’s death. The disturbing twist turns the film on its head a bit, and it’s almost as if the film invites you to embrace the scorn you’ve felt towards Geoffrey, who learns Mother Nature’s lessons in the most heartbreaking way imaginable.
The final fifteen minutes of Errors of the Human Body are compelling in a train-wreck sort of way: for over an hour, you’ve watched this souls and their bodies collide, and the fallout is gruesome and unnerving. I’m not quite sure it completely redeems the entire film, but it provides strong evidence that Sheean and company had one hell of a destination in mind. The journey there is a little dull and weighed down by its director’s insistence at forced profundity. Maybe it’s an unfair case of failing to live up to expectations, but a film titled Errors of the Human Body should probably let loose a little bit—it’s a Frankenstein story where they forgot to give the heart a pulse, and it suffers accordingly. Rent it!
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