Last of the Monster Kids

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

NO ENCORES: Pathology (2008)

1. Pathology (2008)
Director: Marc Scholermann

When “Pathology” came out in 2008, I don't remember hearing very much about it. It's theatrical release was limited, meaning the film wasn't seen by many people. I only skimmed a few reviews, none of which were very exciting. The commercials and trailers I saw looked pretty generic to me. I probably wouldn't have watched “Pathology” if I didn't have an obsessive-compulsive need to see as many of the new horror movies in a year as possible. I was in no way prepared for the kind of movie “Pathology” actually was, an extremely twisted horror/comedy with murder-mystery elements. After scanning the credits, I realized this movie was written by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the madmen behind “Crank.” “Ah,” I said to myself, “That explains that.” The film, however, was actually directed by Marc Scholermann. A German born filmmaker, Scholermann has made a number of music videos and short films but, as of 2017, “Pathology” remains his only feature film credit.

Teddy Grey has a bright future ahead of him. He's just graduated with honors from Harvard and has joined the country's most highly regarded pathology program. He's also engaged to Gwen, the beautiful daughter of a rich businessman. At this turning point in his life he meets Dr. Jake Gallo. Gallo, and his gang of follow pathology students, pull Teddy into a sick game they play. One of the group will murder some undesirable individual – criminals, murderers, drug addicts – and then present the body to the others, seeing if they can guess the cause of death. Ted is resistant at first but is soon drawn in by the sex and drugs that often accompany the murderous game. But Dr. Gallo is more dangerous than he appears and Grey suspects his perfect life is imperiled.

The lame title didn't hint at “Pathology's” content very well. This is a depraved movie loaded with explicit sex, graphic drug use, and intense gore. We see multiple autopsies, bodies graphically cut open. Organs are freely tossed around. Skulls and sternums are cracked open. One especially gross moment involves a punctured colon. That's only the beginning. There's a lot of sex and nudity in “Pathology.” Two female characters casually make out with each other. Teddy begins a hot affair with Juliette, another member of the murder club. The two have sex on floors, in elevators, and in morgues, right next to the dead bodies. There's no lack of bare breasts and graphic humping. “Pathology” is also the only movie I can think that isn't about crack cocaine that features characters smoking crack. People use whip-its in this movie too. The graphic content is certainly startling, if you're not expecting this stuff.

It's not just that “Pathology” piles on the R-rated stuff. The movie is characterized by a nihilistic tone. The characters justify their violent ways by claiming that society is corrupt, full of awful excuses for people who deserve to die. (That doesn't explain the rampant drug use though.) Further selling this mode is what terrible people the main characters are. Milo Ventimiglia's Teddy is a totally feckless protagonist. Despite having a committed girlfriend, he sleeps with the other girl. He joins the murder club without much prodding. He's an anti-hero at best and Ventimiglia's grouchy, flat performance doesn't help matters.

Far better is Michael Weston as Dr. Gallo. Weston goes way over-the-top. He plays Gallo as a totally demented madman. He makes grand announcements about society and harasses other characters. As the story goes on, and Gallo grows more dangerous, Weston pushes his performance even further. For the extra push, Weston even hints that Gallo has a homoerotic obsession with Grey. By the final scene, Weston is sporting a half burned face and spouting arguments at his enemies, signifying the character's full blown transformation into a horror movie villain. It's certainly an entertaining performance and Weston more-or-less makes the movie.

There are some other notable names among the cast. Alyssa Milano is fairly subdued as Grey's fiance. Milano's parts of the movie are so sunny and sweet, that they contrast heavily with the mayhem in the other scenes. At times, Milano seems to be in an entirely different film. John de Lanice, known to “Star Trek” nerds as Q, shows up as the head of the program. De Lancie is entertaining in his brief scenes, bringing some humor to an otherwise stale voice of authority. (de Lanice would become something of a good luck charm for Nevldine/Taylor, as they also sneaked him into their next two movies.) Larry Drake also shows up as a character named “Fat Bastard,” a fitting description.

From a narrative perspective, “Pathology” is fairly absurd. It seems unlikely that these elaborate murders would be happening on hospital grounds for so long without some authority noticing. Later, the protagonist is linked to several murders and never comes under suspicion. That seems unlikely. Moreover, there's very few characters for the audience to root for. Like I said, Teddy is a terrible person. While Gallo is interesting to watch, he's an utterly despicable character. It's also hard to tell if “Pathology” is criticizing or embracing the nihilistic philosophies espoused by its characters. Add all of this stuff together and you're left with a movie likely to alienate the majority of viewers.

If you're looking for an aesthetic that directs “Pathology,” you can clearly recognize Neveldine and Taylor's finger prints. Occasionally, the movie reveals a sick sense of humor, in the way it piles up human bodily fluids. A character casually dropping a line about “tweaking” got a chuckle out of me. The actions of the murder club are often so extreme that only a small push would be necessary to make the film a deranged comedy. However, the material is mostly played straight, leading to a very grim motion picture that doesn't quite justify its own excesses. Playing a grisly punk song like “Parade of the Horribles” over the end credits could've been a sick joke but it also could've been an earnest statement about the film's themes.

So what of Marc Scholermann's direction? Visually, “Pathology” isn't too distinct from the “Saw” films, a similarly graphic horror series that was popular at the time. There's lots of grungy greens and antiseptic white operating rooms. However, Scholermann occasionally throws in an interesting element. When Ted is first exposed to the depraved antics of his new friends, Scholermann's attaches the camera to Milo Ventimiglia shoulders, allowing the audience to feel as disorientated as the character does. Later, after ruthlessly murdering a trio of prostitutes, Gallo imagines himself on stage before an applauding audience. Touches like these are intriguing. More of them would've made “Pathology” a more interesting watch.

For its deprived energy, “Pathology” is worth giving a look. You're honestly left wondering how far it'll go, at times. It's about as grisly as a mainstream thriller can get. The ending is also mildly clever. However, it's a deeply unlikable film. I'm not surprised that most people seem to hate it. If Neveldine/Taylor had directed the movie themselves, it probably would've been a more entertaining – or at least funnier - experience. (Though probably still pretty ugly.) As for Marc Scholermann, I don't know what he's up to now. The shrugging reception that greeted “Pathology” probably explains why he has yet to make another feature. Still, I sort of like this and would be interested in giving its director another chance. [7/10]

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