Fantasia 2012 – Errors of the Human Body Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Errors of the Human Body (2011)

Starring Michael Eklund, Karoline Herfurth, Tomas Lemarquis, and Rik Mayall

Directed by Eron Sheean

Science and movies almost never seem to mix, especially if you’ve ever had any experience with the slow and rigorous beast that is scientific research. It’s understandable given that the average movie is about 100 minutes and the average scientific inquiry probably takes year to complete from start to finish. The two are certainly not the most compatible. That said, some filmmakers have still been able to do it justice. Even though Altered States deals with pseudo-scientific material, it really feels like a scientific movie, and a damn good one at that. Errors of the Human body started off quite well and got me hoping for the next ‘Altered States’, however the story was taken in a different direction than I was anticipating and without as much impact to the viewer as could have been possible. The result is an odd film that is at times beautiful and intelligent, while at others a little confusing and not as hard hitting as it could have been.

Geoff Burton (Eklund) is a controversial scientist whose fame or notoriety is direct result of loss he has experienced. Burton and his now ex-wife lost their infant son to a rare genetic disorder, and now Burton’s goal is to use his son as an example to understand and prevent these sad stories in the future. Far from eugenics, Burton has developed a method of screening embryos in order to detect rare genetic illnesses. In a move to the cold and wintry landscape of Dresden, Germany; Burton reunites with an old student, Rebekka, also an old flame, who may be on the brink of an incredible discovery that would have incredible implications for Burton’s research. However, the research environment has the same kind of cutthroats previously found on the high seas, maybe even worse. Burton and Rebekka must work together to protect her discovery from a creepy scientist named Jarek who has ambitious plans of his own.

Errors of the Human Body features some beautifully appropriate photography of the frozen landscape of Dresden, the equally cold confines of research laboratories, and images of cells through the lens of a microscope. The world of science is really all about the micro as it relates to the macro and Errors mirrors this perfectly, especially in the first-half of the film. The images of cells and microscopes are lightyears away from the absurdity of 2011’s The Thing, in which I had to stifle my laughter as alien cells assimilated human cells in a parody of real science. Even though ‘real’ science will never have a place in a feature film, Errors does a remarkable job getting as close to the discipline as possible, creating a very plausible research environment.

The performances are quite solid across the board with the very creepy Lemarquis turning in the best performance in my books. It’s a shame that the script doesn’t have darker avenues for Lemarquis’ character to venture down, but I suppose the story didn’t call for it. Eklund does some serious brooding throughout the movie while still remaining a character who audiences should care about. He mentioned during the introduction to the film that he initially had no interest in traveling to Germany for a shoot. I wonder if Eklund channeled his personal wishes to get out of this frozen environment into his character, contributing to his solid performance as Burton. If I was in his position, I sure would have tried.

Errors tells the story chosen by the filmmakers, but it was a bit disappointing as certain scenes early in the film hint of very dark implications which are only partially realized. Errors could have turned into a frightening horror or sci-fi piece, but instead is happy to stay a drama or character piece. I have to admit that it is fairly successful as a character driven story, but I would have liked something more fantastical given the hints early on in the film. Finally, it was clear what the filmmakers were saying about their characters, but what they were saying about science, if anything, was a little harder to understand. This film could certainly be interpreted as anti-technology or anti-science by some, regardless of the intentions of the filmmakers, but I hope this isn’t the case. There are enough anti-science voices these days who don’t understand that science cannot commit atrocities, only people can. Science and technology are no more inherently evil than the brain of a newborn child.

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The Divide Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.

Some readers may be familiar with my position regarding post-apocalyptic films that I have voiced in previous reviews, but I will go over it once more for new readers. I feel that these films are often not subject to the same standard of criticism that fans and reviewers use for other horror and sci-fi fare. There is something about the end of the world, and a bleak environment faced by a small band of survivors that is extremely appealing to a large group of fans. Too often, poor story lines and insipid dialogue are overlooked, simply because a movie features a post-apocalyptic theme. I can certainly dig post-apocalyptic if it is done well, I’m just not as forgiving as the hardcore fans. I’m sure that I too am guilty of the same selective criticism of other sub-genres, perhaps slashers and dark detective stories. Fortunately, my clash with post-apocalypitc apologists can wait for another time, as I’m sure we can agree that Xavier Gens’ The Divide is a grotesquely mean-spirited and emotionally powerful tour-de-force.

The short which preceded the feature was Blind Spot from Matthew Nayman. Blind Spot depicts a disgruntled man driving on the freeway and attempting to change his flight time while on the phone with some unhelpful booking agents. What the man doesn’t realize is that while he battles the booking agents, an alien invasion has begun outside his driver side window. Viewers listen to the oblivious man argue, while a massive urban centre crumbles and burns in the background. Blind Spot is brilliant in its simplicity and is everything you could want in a short film.

Back to The Divide.

The story begins with Eva (Lauren German) gazing out her apartment at the fiery end of the world, or at least the end of New York City. Eva snaps out of it thanks to her husband Sam (Iván González), and the couple make a dash for the secure basement of their apartment complex. The pair make it to the basement safely, along with a small group of other tenants, including Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Bobby (Michael Eklund), Marilyn(Rosanna Arquette), and paranoid superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn), however they are forced to close the doors on a stampede of other tenants, or jeopardize their own safety. It turns out that the people who perished in the blast were the lucky ones, as the inhabitants of the apartment basement begin to lose their sanity and turn on each other in a horrifying sequence of events.

The Divide looks, feels and sounds fantastic, but the real story is the amazing acting turned in by the entire cast. Director Xavier Gens gave the cast a large degree of artistic freedom, so the final on-screen performances are the result of careful writing by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, combined with many improvised moments and ideas from the cast. Add to this the strict 31 day diet that Gens placed the cast on, in order to realistically display the worsening physical condition of the characters, and I imagine that much of the on-screen tension was fueled by real emotion.

I really don’t want to go through the performances of the cast one by one, as they were top notch across the board, and of a calibre that is rarely seen in this type of film. Although it should be noted that witnessing Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund transform into despicable villains is absolutely chilling.

Gens has created one the most stifling and claustrophobic atmospheres to ever be depicted on film. The characters in The Divide seem like they could be your real life friends or acquaintances. That is what makes their Lord-of-the-Flies-like descent into barbarism all the more chilling. Do not watch The Divide to have a good time at the movies. Instead, go see it when you are ready to witness the dark side of humanity. The film will weigh on your chest and make it difficult to breathe for 110 minutes, as you try to find a way out for these unfortunate characters while they destroy each other, both physically and mentally.

It should be noted that the Toronto After Dark version of The Divide was not the extended cut. The official Xavier Gens cut will feature an additional 15 minutes of sex, violence, and canned beans (don’t ask). I imagine it will feel like a much darker film. I’m not sure if I could handle that.

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