Pathology (2008)


A few months back I saw a medical thriller called Awake, a flick that started out obvious, slowly became a little bit more colorful, and then fell into the deep end near Act III. It wasn't just the silliness of the plot turns that sunk the movie; it was the dry tone and the vacant acting performances. Now comes a medical thriller called Pathology that starts out fairly obvious, quickly becomes both colorful and ridiculous, and then (gleefully) makes a swan dive right towards lunacy. The difference between the films (both of which suffer from serious editorial issues) is that Awake is saddled with a serious demeanor ... while Pathology turns crazy on a dime and has a good time doing so. As outlandish as things gets, you'll still want to stick around to see how things work out -- whereas with Awake I just couldn't wait for the final credits to show up.

Milo Ventimiglia plays one of those amazing young hot-shot doctors that probably only exist in movies, and after spending some dues-paying time at Bellevue and Africa, the good doctor has landed a gig at a very prestigious New York hospital. More specifically, he'll be working in what looks to be the world's busiest morgue. Dr. Grey meets up with a typically demanding professor and a predictably sycophantic new friend ... but he's most interested in that "cool kids" group of young doctors. The ones who do casually nasty things to dead bodies, act like arrogant frat boys, and redefine the term "god complex." Turns out that the quartet of cocky young docs likes to play a game: Basically, one of the doctors will KILL someone, and then challenge his/her colleagues to ascertain the precise cause of death. Against his better judgment, Doc Grey plays along with the game and quickly becomes stuck like a rat in a trap: Soon he'll be expected to kill someone himself...

On paper it sounds like a fairly basic -- but juicy -- story, but first-time director Mark Schoelerman (with much help from Crank screenwriters Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine) has a respectable number of curve balls up his sleeve. As audacious and extreme as Pathology gets, one never gets the impression that it happened by accident. Aside from the editorial glitches in the early going (which indicate some studio-mandated snips, if you ask me) and a somewhat confused pacing issue (the flick moves quickly enough, but we never get a real sense of "time" here, as in "How many hours took place between this murder and that autopsy, precisely? Four? 48?"), Pathology is a surprisingly well-made little movie. The look and the sound of the piece work decidedly well, but the film's best asset is its patently unpredictable moral compass. Turns out that our hero has a secret dark streak, plus those "cool kid psycho doctors" participate in some rather garish extra-curriculars -- so let's hear it for a small dash of bleak weirdness from a genre that generally churns out little more than stale leftovers.

Probably best described as "Flatliners V2 with a small dash of Saw tossed in for texture," Pathology is a strange bird indeed. It features some strong work from leads Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Weston ... but it also has a lot of characters whose "stuff" clearly ended up on the cutting room floor. It's deceptively smart one moment and then broadly dizzy the next ... oh, and it sure isn't shy about showing the ugliest sides of "morgue activity." I'm not exactly sure if it's the kind of gore we root for, but there's a lot of grossly impressive "body" effects to be found in Pathology -- and it's definitely not for the squeamish.

In other words, it's a gory, pulpy, comic-booky medical thriller that isn't exactly a great movie, but it's sick, slick, and strange enough to warrant a 90-minute look.