Dir. Marc Schoelermann, US, 2008, 93 minutes
Pathology is a cut-em-up thriller that follows a young physician into a snarl of medical residents who make sure that they always have a steady supply of freshly-killed bodies to examine, no matter what it takes. If your taste runs to sawed-open chests and freshly-extracted organs, this film that tries hard to shock may be just for you. Call it Gross Anatomy.
Television hospital shows draw a huge audience globally, and if part of that public wants Scrubs or Grey's Anatomy with darker humour and deeper incisions, Pathology could find its niche, despite poor opening weekend returns (estimated at$50,000 on 46 sites for a screen average of $1,087). The cast led by young TV veterans Milo Ventimiglia, Lauren Lee Smith and Alyssa Milano could help.
Yet the film's script and production design lack originality, and its gory dissections don't approach the fear level that horror aficionados have come to expect from the Hostel and Saw franchises. If the careers of its stars continue to rise, home video could be strong for Pathology.
The film's twist on the frat-pack formula is its setting - an ensemble of whiz-kid pathology residents in a huge L.A. hospital, which DP Ekkehart Pollock shoots in an institutional grey-metal monochrome. Doctor Ted Grey (Ventimiglia) leaves fiancee Gwen (Milano) behind in her family's mansion to join the prestigious group. Soon he learns that his peers do more than figure out how corpses died. Lots of drugs and sex are part of the mix, as Grey takes up with seductive Dr. Juliet Bath (Smith), enraging her sadistic boyfriend, Dr. Jake Gallo (Weston).
Eve n as the corpses pile in, and the residents compete to formulate ingenious diagnoses to impress their mentor (de Lancie), the doctors also begin plotting against each other.
There are echoes of 21 about MIT kids conspiring to cheat Vegas casinos in this story of callow academic prodigies who turn to crime, although in Pathology, the competitive young scientists, and not their professor, are making and breaking the rules of the gore-fest.
Sweeney Todd also comes to mind, although the internal organs that production designer Jerry Fleming arranges like meat in a butcher shop are never eaten. Indeed, avoiding cannibalism may be the film's only restraint.
German director Marc Schoelermann, who has worked mostly in television and music videos, builds the film around one location, a dark examination room called The Dungeon where the residents debate diagnoses around corpses on a large metal table..
With bodily fluids flowing and scalpels piercing, Schoelermann builds the intrigue with ashen-faced close-ups of the renegade medical minds. Yet a weak script by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor connects murders to dissections without building much intrigue, even though you suspect that most of the doctors-gone-wild cast will end up as cadavers. Awkward editing, however, leaves the audience with lots of unintended mysteries.
Although Pathology opens with a truly chilling scene in which the residents make bloody skulls converse like marionettes, most of this film is nowhere near as shocking as it would like to be.
But it can be fun to watch. Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, Gilmore Girls, Rocky Balboa) has the right look of innocence and rectitude for the predictable role of the well-meaning neophyte swept into a game of murder. And Lauren Lee Smith and Alyssa Milano are each seductive enough to convince you that he's really struggling to decide which one of them he wants.
Special effects on the dissection table are another high point. Since corpses could not be filmed, real bodies were often used, with the grayish tinge of dead flesh under the knife. Given what can go wrong on any movie set, these actors were probably more frightened by Pathology than anyone in the audience will be.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
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Yan Fisher Romanovsky
Todd E. Miller
Lauren Lee Smith
John de Lancie