Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
Errors of the Human Body has been on my watchlist since I first saw it mentioned some 10 years ago. While I deliberately avoided reading too much about it, the premise of genetic engineering and a title that recalls early Cronenberg piqued my interest. And although it looked more like a science fiction film, the hope of some body horror was enough for me to include it this year.
Errors of the Human Body is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Dr Geoff Burton takes a new research position at a genetics institute in Germany. In particular, he is researching a unique disorder that killed his infant son shortly after birth. This tragedy and his reaction to it led to the loss of his previous job and the collapse of his marriage.
At the institute, Burton reconnects with Rebekka Fiedler, a former student who is now a ground-breaking researcher herself. The two are former lovers, a situation that was fraught with ethical concerns at the time. Regardless of any residual guilt, they soon become intimate again.
Fielder is working on what she has dubbed the “Easter gene” — a change to the genome of axolotls that allows them to regenerate severed limbs at almost visible speed. While she had been working with Jarek Novak, a rather creepy and stalkerish colleague, the two have had a falling out and are supposedly pursuing different avenues of research. In practice, Novak is stealing Fielder’s work and adapting it for use on mammals.
When Burton investigates this by stealing samples from Novak’s lab, he accidentally infects himself with a virus engineered to introduce the mutation into the genomes of mice. As Burton becomes more and more unwell, he must try to uncover whether the changes he is undergoing are a boon or a death sentence.
What precisely does the Easter gene do? Will Burton survive the changes he is going through? And what does all of this have to do with his own research?
As protagonists go, Burton is a bit of an arsehole. The institute is filled with eccentric characters, and it’s not unreasonable that some might rub anyone up the wrong way, but Burton seems to go out of his way to be rude and hostile to everyone. This is clearly meant to be an expression of his pain, and he isn’t wholly unsympathetic. Still, it is difficult to root for him and his predicament, which undermines what is otherwise a poignant ending.
While the premise and title invite comparisons with Cronenberg, Errors of the Human Body feels very different from his work. For all the emotional dysfunction and mad science, there is a fundamental weirdness missing from this film. It never really makes us uncomfortable, even in its rare scenes of body horror. The closest we get to that shock of the weird is when Burton has a fever dream in which he hallucinates himself bleeding mice. A little more of such inventiveness might have gone a long way.
It was interesting to see Rik Mayall here, in what would be one of his last film appearances. When I saw his name in the credits, I wondered if he might be the comic relief. Instead, we see him as the head of the institute, playing the role absolutely straight. This turns out to be an inspired piece of casting.
For a film about weird viruses that takes in mad science, body horror and fevered hallucinations, Errors of the Human Body is surprisingly dull. The core concept is interesting enough but it feels underdeveloped. While there is an excellent payoff, getting there is a plodding journey. There is more time invested in the politics of academia than the more imaginative aspects of the story. The last act in particular has terrible pacing, with Burton just wandering around Dresden looking ill for much of the time.
While the weirder aspects of this film may be understated, the visual effects are nicely handled. The progression of Burton’s illness is handled relatively subtly, with small skin lesions blossoming into clusters of tumours. It feels uncomfortably realistic in a way something more overblown might not. The location of the institute also adds much to the film. Its antiseptic corridors and oddly claustrophobic clinical rooms feel real but are just odd enough to keep us off-balance.
Ultimately, however, Errors of the Human Body doesn’t feel like much of anything. As a drama, it’s too superficial. The virus and its effects aren’t weird enough to carry it as science fiction or horror. And if this is meant to be a technothriller, it really should be more thrilling. There are some strong emotional notes, especially towards the end, but they are geared more to making us sad than frightened. All in all, Errors of the Human Body is a painfully, forgettably average film.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!