Boasting a gutsy performance from sturdy young German star Franka Potente (“Run Lola Run”), “Anatomy” is creepy, sometimes gruesome, widescreen fun that pushes all the right buttons. Out-performing “Scream” at the local B.O. and the biggest German pic of the year so far, this is natural latenight/fantasy fest fare that could become a cult item on half-inch and possibly even theatrically. Sony is gingerly opening it Stateside in eight cities on Sept. 8.
Thanks to writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s cool direction, as well as Potente’s offbeat appeal, film is the best of the recent crop of Teuton horrors, including Michael Karen’s slick sendup of U.S. slasher pics, “Flashback: A Murderous Vacation,” and the English-lingo, Amanda Plummer starrer, “7 Days to Live.” Surprise here is Ruzowitzky’s involvement, as the Austrian director previously carved a name on the fest circuit with the very different rural comedy “The Inheritors,” his sophomore outing.
“Anatomy” is the first feature kick-started by the production unit of distrib Col TriStar’s German operation. Its success has encouraged further investment by the major, at a time when others in Germany, bruised by some releases, have started to question the wisdom of supporting local fare.
Potente plays Paula Henning, an ambitious, focused med student from Munich who gets a place in an elite summer course on anatomy at a college in Heidelberg that has a peerless collection of plasticized specimens. Her horny roommate, Gretchen (Anna Loos), who likes to get her jollies on metal dissecting tables, takes a shine to handsome, steely-eyed Hein (Benno Fuermann). Paula, however, is all work, despite the admiration of fellow student Caspar (Sebastian Blomberg).
The daughter of a doctor (Rudiger Vogler, in a small but key role), Paula attracts the attention of the college’s renowned head, Prof. Grombek (Traugott Buhre). She also comes to suspect that Grombek is head of a secret society, the Anti-Hippocratics, which is cutting up corpses in unauthorized ways. When first Gretchen and then Grombek are discovered missing, Paula finds herself next on the menu.
Ruzowitzky stirs everything from incipient Nazism to mad-doctor horror refs into the script but prevents the mix toppling over into sendup by straight playing from the cast. Peter von Haller’s widescreen lensing contrasts the dreamy, rural exteriors of historic Heidelberg with the cool, metallic interiors of the research facility (created in a Munich studio).
Tension unfortunately slackens in the final reels, lacks a big enough climax and too obviously setup a sequel, but, for most of the way, pic is highly entertaining. Fuermann, good in the recent “Friends,” makes a suitably hunky co-star for offbeat looker Potente. Thesps have since reteamed for Tom Tykwer’s “The Princess and the Warrior,” set to bow at Venice.