The average human brain weighs three pounds, which may explain why “Pathology,” though painfully light on heart and soul, still feels more substantial than most death-by-bonesaw shockers. Grisly thriller combines book learning with a very twisted imagination for a “Flatliners”-style story of hotshot D.C. morgue interns who kill degenerates for sport. Like its characters, the pic is too clever for its own good, allowing the meticulously researched scenario to be undone by implausible behavior and gaping plot holes. Limited theatrical release looks to be D.O.A., thanks to minimal marketing, with livelier DVD prospects ahead.
“Pathology” goes well beyond the level of gore most auds can take: Cracking ribcages and juggling organs clearly don’t faze these characters, who handle cadavers on a daily basis, but the startling combination of visuals and sound effects makes much of their work unwatchable. As the new kid among a tight-knit clique of residents, Dr. Ted Grey (played by “Heroes” heartthrob Milo Ventimiglia) shows more respect for the dead than his colleagues. He’s a superstar with the scalpel and more perceptive in his autopsies than the others, which brings out their competitive side.
What starts as simple hazing quickly crosses over into dangerous behavior as the alpha resident (Michael Weston, as the gang’s one-step-shy-of-crazy Kiefer Sutherland type) introduces Ted to their after-hours “game”: Pick someone who deserves to die and commit the perfect, undetectable murder. It takes a certain twisted genius to devise the kind of sinister methods they employ, and screenwriters Neveldine and Taylor (“Crank”) surely polled their share of pathologists for ideas.
The results yield little more than a second-act montage — swapping cyanide pills for Ecstasy at the disco, inhaling subzero nitrous oxide and so on — which leaves the remainder of the movie to deal with the young doctors’ escalating insanity. Their unstable mental states clearly lend the pun to the pic’s title, but it’s the erotic undercurrent that proves most disturbing.
Closest comparison might be David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” which fetishized accident scenes and mangled flesh. Only the most desensitized auds could overlook a Y-shaped chest incision to find the sight of bare nipples arousing. The characters, on the other hand, fire up the meth pipe and start making out the instant someone pulls back the autopsy sheet. Ted’s descent into this underworld seems highly improbable, but once there, such kinky play renders his relationship with fiancee Gwen (Alyssa Milano) downright vanilla — and “Seven” has taught us what happens to the good girl in stories as cynical as this.
However provocative the writers’ graduate-level ideas (which touch on Nietzschean morality, med-school power games and more), they’re ultimately limited by the trashy horror movie context in which they’re presented. Still, the genre has proven an effective showcase for first-time feature directors before, and here, musicvideo helmer Marc Scholermann demonstrates a firm grasp of tension and style, imbuing the film with the sickly, green-tinged atmosphere of the morgue. Makeup effects are top-notch.