Many a worthwhile medical thriller has been presented as a crafty morality tale. For example: would you give a person cancer if you knew it would cure cancer? What if it was a hundred people? And what if the results were … pretty certain, but not guaranteed? When do actions pursued for the betterment of humanity tip the scales and become, well, inhumane? This is the sort of material presented in Eron Sheean’s Errors of the Human Body, which is not the gory splatter-fest it may sound like, but is a chilly, compelling, and quietly engrossing little sci-fi/horror thriller from Germany.
Calm and collected in the most fascinating fashion, Errors of the Human Body is a medical thriller that’s both reminiscent of earlier stories (ones from David Cronenberg or Michael Crichton, perhaps) and astutely unique in its own right. On the surface it’s the story of an American doctor who travels to Hamburg to assist a pair of estranged colleagues who are on to something big in the field of cancer research, but in the layers beneath (and there are several) we have a tense, topical, and fascinating discussion about morality, medicine, the dangers of playing god, the sin of wasting knowledge, the perils of trust, and the necessity of human contact.
And while Errors of the Human Body could be capably described as a “slow burn” thriller, that’s not to say it’s boring or uneventful. Once the doctor’s tragic backstory gets some attention, we’re already halfway invested, but once the film settles in as a three-way ego-brawl between some brilliant but very different doctors, it starts to generate energy on a variety of levels. By the time the film gradually transforms into a tragic tale of espionage, infection, and physical mutation, Errors has already succeeded in the realms of concept, intelligence, and slow-build character. What once seemed cold and clinical has become personal and fascinating.
The three leads are simply fantastic across the board. As the woman who may have just cured cancer, but has her own reasons for remaining stoic about the discovery, Karoline Herfurth is all sorts of engaging. Equally good, but a lot more colorful, is Tomas Lemarquis as brilliant young German who may have plagiarized his way into something special. Bald and brash, he butts heads with his new American adversary with amusing results. As played by Michael Eklund, he’s a downbeat but undeniably passionate researcher who has his own reasons for being so driven, and if the film eventually does reach a “mad scientist” moment, it’s nice to note that the journey was so unexpectedly intelligent and engrossing. Bonus points for the inclusion of great British character actor Rik Mayall, as the “big boss” doctor who steals several key scenes and keeps the audience up to speed in very efficient fashion.
Set mostly in a cavernous and unwelcoming series of hallways and labs, Errors of the Human Body works as a smart piece of throwback sci-fi, a deliberately-paced but insightful horror story, and a “simple” little drama about three very different people who are all scrambling for one very noble goal, at any cost. By the time the movie gets gory and throws a few unexpected plot curves at you, you’ll either be already hooked by the “character stuff,” or you’ll have tuned the hell out already. (Obviously I was in the former group.)