Familiar Science, by Sarah Brinks
From the first scene of Errors of the Human Body, I was trying to figure out where I knew the main character Geoff – played by Michael Eklund – from. After a quick IMDb search, I figured out that he appeared in a season three episode of Fringe (The Plateau), a fitting connection given the direction this film takes. If “Fauxlivia” and Lincoln from Fringe or Agents Mulder and Scully had shown up at any point in the film, it would have felt completely believable, and maybe even improved the film.
Errors of the Human Body is about a driven and sad geneticist Geoff, who has just moved to Germany from the United States to pursue his work in a less heated political environment. Geoff is searching for the cure to a genetic condition, named Burtons syndrome, which killed his infant son after only a week of life. This case appears to be the only on record for this genetic disease. His pursuit of answers has cost him his marriage and career in the United States. At his new lab, Geoff is put back in touch with a young German geneticist, Rebekka, with whom he had an affair when she was his intern. There is another geneticist named Jarek who is always lurking around Geoff, making him feel uncomfortable. Rebekka shows Geoff that she has found this incredible gene called the “Easter Gene” that promotes accelerated cell regeneration in cold-blooded animals at a rate previously never seen. Geoff discovers that Jarek is stealing Rebekka’s samples and starts the ball rolling for the events that unfold throughout the rest of the film.
I find genetics fascinating and especially the way the tiniest change in a genetic code can have significant results. Errors of the Human Body doesn’t seem very interested in the actual struggles of scientists and the complexities of the moral, scientific, and political issues surrounding genetic research. As I mentioned, the film fits into the vein of fiction such as Fringe or The X-Files or even Splice. From that perspective, it is successful, but still feels a bit uneven. It doesn’t quite seem to know how to handle the science fiction versus science-fact elements of its plot. It doesn’t really seem to have anything to actually say until the very last scene of the film. If Errors of the Human Body had stretched itself a little more, I think it could have been not only a visually interesting film it also could have had something important to say. To be fair, the very last scene of the film is powerful, and, without force-feeding you a moral to the story, they do allow you to feel the weight of Geoff’s actions and choices.
Full credit must be given to cinematographer Anna Howard and director Eron Sheean, neither of whom have very much feature length film experience, but both have great talent. Even when I wasn’t very drawn in by the plot, Errors of the Human Body is gorgeous to look at. They use the landscape of winter in Germany to great effect. There are several exterior shots set at night and the snow is lit and shot so well that you feel the crisp biting edge that would be in the air as people walk from building to building. Scheean handles the flashback scenes very well and uses microscopic footage of cells as transitions between scenes to great effect. There are a few occasions when the German accents make it a little difficult to understand people, but for the most part, the cast is doing very good work. The one exception might be Tomas Lemarquis, who plays Jarek, the “bad guy” of the film. Subtly goes out the window when he is on screen. He doesn’t mug for the camera, but seems to be screaming, “don’t trust me, I’m a bad guy!” It is a little heavy-handed to cast someone with alopecia as the villain, since he already looks different from everyone in the film. At a costume party in the middle of the film, they even dress him in a black hooded cape reminiscent of villains in silent films.
I won’t spoil the rest, but it does go a little further into the absurd then I was hoping for. Overall, the make-up effect that they are trying to accomplish is pretty successful. Sheean and Howard make the wise choice to film the prosthetics mostly in shadow and only give glimpses of it in close-up so that it doesn’t look too fake. The film had a budget of less than $2 million, and they made every dollar work for them.
I think fans of this type of material will enjoy this well-shot film. However, unlike Fringe or The X-Files, Errors of the Human Body doesn’t have years to tell its story, so you end up with what feels like a one-off episode of a canceled series. I wish the film had either been a confident addition to the science fiction genre or a smart fiction film about genetic exploration and its many, varied potential consequences.