31 Days of Halloween: Day 16 – Errors of the Human BodyA movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director/co-writer Eron Sheean's Errors of the Human Body.
My first exposure to the work of Eron Sheean was the script he co-wrote for Xavier Gens' intense 2011 nuclear attack horror-drama The Divide. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it for the performances of Milo Ventimiglia, Rosanna Arquette, and especially Michael Eklund. They do extremely disturbing apocalyptic madness like nobody's business. For Sheean's first feature film as a director, Errors of the Human Body, he brings Eklund with him as genetics researcher, Dr. Geoff Burton (a far cry from his role in The Divide!!).
The film was developed while Sheean served as artist in residency over six years at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and is a bit more thriller than horror. By which I mean there are no genetically modified monsters or clichés one might normally see in a basic premise like this (I'm looking at you Splice, you horrible thing, you).
Instead we get a psychological exploration of a man, Dr. Burton, on the verge of breaking down while also working to help develop a human regeneration gene. He's trying to work his way through a personal tragedy that has ruined his life and his career, but in Germany, he finds something both amazing and soul-crushing at the same time.
Eklund's performance is amazing. He plays the paranoia and barely restrained hostility that simmers beneath the surface of his character's psyche like a coiled snake. There's guilt and repression and rage all mixing together and bursting out at inappropriate times, and Sheean's slow-burn script allows the tension to build until it's almost unbearable. His direction is also very controlled, with a clinical coldness at times offset with sudden appearances of warmth and energy.
How's that for descriptive and non-spoilery for you?
Eklund's Dr. Burton is offset by the creepily passive-aggressively hostile Jarek Novak (Tómas Lemarquis), who is doing his own research off in the basement, secretly building on what Dr. Rebekka Fielder (Karoline Herfurth) began before she hit a wall and decided that Burton might be able to help her break through.
Before everything is said and done, secrets are revealed and Burton discovers his greatest mistake. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that it is emotionally devastating. The real horrors in this film are in the personal choices each character makes and the ways those choices come back to haunt them.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Rik Mayall is in this as the head of the Institute! I don't think I've ever seen Mayall in anything serious before, and while he took me out of the film for a few moments when I initially realized it was him, his performance is nuanced and believable. By the time he had been on-screen a couple of times, I'd forgotten all about him being Rick from The Young Ones and the titular Drop Dead Fred.
This one's a bit hard on the heart, but is one of the more effective horror films released by this time in the year without resorting to monsters, the supernatural, or serial killers. We can always use more intelligent psychological horror.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.