Fantasia 2012: ‘Errors of the Human Body’ is disturbing, but not because of any mistakes

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Errors of the Human Body

Directed by Eron Sheean

Written by Eron Sheean and Shane Danielson

U.S.A./Germany, 2012

There is so much potential in films relating to scientific experiments gone awry that one wonders why there are not more which play at Fantasia. Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that the premise is too limiting and only so many plot development can arise from it. However limited the number of story points may be, the thematic structure they may adopt are multitudinous, whether the screenwriters and directors go for emotional gravitas, horror or more science-fiction based material. Eron Sheean opts for a healthy mixture of all three in his latest film, Errors of the Human Body, where hopeful scientific research for the future has immediate impacts on the present and bring back harsh memories from the past.

Geoff Burton (Michael Eklund) is a new arrival in the town of Dresden, Germany. Having flown over from North America, the painful memory of his infant son’s grisly demise at the behest of an unspeakably foul degenerative disease propels Geoff to pursue his sophisticated research at one the world’s leading genetics laboratories. It is there that he re-acquaints himself with an old colleague and old flame, Rebekka (Karoline Herfuth), who is one of many employees attempting to crack the code that should result in a new vaccination type medicine, the purpose of which would be to enable organisms to regenerate destroyed tissue. The testing stage is still in its infancy, with the lab mice succumbing to the foreign product in their bodies. One rival scientist, Jarek (Tomas Lamarquis), with whom Geoff does not get along with especially well, seems to be engaged in late night tests in the basement of the establishment, at least as far as Geoff can assess the night he opts to snoop around the premise. Upon smuggling one mouse and a tiny sample of the liquid vaccine his opposite was studying, Geoff makes a startling discovery back at his apartment, one that puts everything into brand new light.

 

Eron Sheean’s Errors of the Human Body is a contemplative, rich exploration of the dedication and dare it be said obsession which may take over when engaged in scientific research. When the stakes are raised high enough, here being, among other things, the right to claim that one was the first to arrive at a solution to all previous queries regarding degenerative diseases, professional behaviour sometimes subsides, leaving its place for more egotistical inhibitions. The layers of civility which guide people can easily peel away in the wake of hostilities emerging out of professional rivalry. Director Sheean takes the viewers into a cold, dark world, which is ironic given how the purpose of the genetics research lab is to give birth to a brighter future where man, woman and child shan’t worry about the deterioration of the human body when attacked by malicious disease.

The film’s set-up is exquisitely done, with the protagonist’s story arc established right from the get go, itself a powerful tool in setting up the oblique tone of the picture. Geoff’s life back home failed him from the moment his newborn son displayed the signs of a currently incurable disease which thickens the skin with inflation, consequently interfering with the functionality of the internal organs. A lone picture of what his son resembled at the time of his passing is enough to repulse just about anyone with a decent soul. The death of his son understandably put strain on his marriage, leading to a second ,metaphorical, death. His role is Dresden is therefore two-sided. First, there is the obvious matter of discovering a cure to the disease, and second, there is the more personal mission Geoff has given himself, that being to prevent the same event from befalling any other families and maybe even to reach a degree of closure with his own demons. It makes for a compelling hero’s journey, one mired in a shroud of mistrust and mystery at the research lab. Michael Eklund is excellent in the role of Geoff, giving the character a powerful sense of destiny, or at least somebody who believes in such a destiny while still very much affected by his recent tragedy.

The laboratory becomes a character unto itself, with its many dark shadows, oppressive lighting in the study rooms and the host of strange characters which cross the protagonist. As the story develops, and as Geoff’s suspicions as to what his rival’s goals are, the former’s behaviour takes a turn for the worst, thus sending the audience into a tailspin. Geoff, along with Rebekka (played with tremendous confidence by Karoline Herfuth), are on the trail for a solution, but when it seems as though Jarek  is getting the better of them, Geoff suddenly erupts, losing his cool and patience. The once noble man is now looking more and more like a monstrous creation of his own doing. It is at this stage that Errors enter decidedly murky waters, sending certain expectations way off course. One realizes that the purpose of everyone’s efforts at the company (apart from making money of course), is to discover the potion that will make people’s lives better. This was the primary mission Geoff at acquitted himself with a piece of the puzzle towards ultimate redemption. Now, fearing that someone else just may have arrived at the finished line before him, the emotions get the better of him. Rationale is no longer of any consequence, and when such a behavioural shift occurs, a challenge is thrown to the audience. How willing are we to side by Geoff if what his opposite number, even considering how much of a schemer he is, is ultimately a positive for societies at large? It is an unexpected turn for the film to make given how in many of these movies the protagonist remains virtuous enough to merit the viewer’s empathy despite his or her errors of judgement. In the case of Errors, one can argue that Goeff practically becomes the villain at one point.

 

Where the film takes a few hits is in its explanations about how the science related information operates and how it fits into Geoff’s past, in particular the horrifying death of his son. The film tries to pull a fast one on the audience in revealing that one of the individuals the hero meets at the facility may have had a hand in what happened to the boy, but it is poorly integrated into the story and, worse still, does not fully pay off later on in the final scenes. Apart from that, it is somewhat disorienting to listen to the characters rattle on about genetics in the latter on when the emotions run high and the revelations start pouring in. A lot of nitty gritty details are thrown about and one imagines that the film assumes the viewer will have memorized everything that was divulged earlier on, but that is easier said than done.

Eron Sheean has a more than worthy entry in the ‘scientific research gone wrong’ sub genre of horror and thriller films. His pictures concentrates more on the psychological and emotional trauma experienced by the characters, less the bodily deformations risked via experimentation, although the director does deliver some of that too. The fact that when the icky stuff, when it finally makes its appearance, is wonderfully put into narrative and thematic context makes the picture all the better.

-Edgar Chaput

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