Yet another movie withheld from press screenings, Pathology isn't exactly a horror movie, though it does contain a good amount of gore. It inspired me to coin a new subgenre: "secret underground club of life and death" movies. In these films, two or more young people get together and use logic and intellect to cut through the dreary, soul-deadening reality of life and get closer to something more metaphysical, usually involving death or sex or both. Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) is an early example, in which two students kill a man for sport, and then throw a dinner party with the corpse hidden in the very center of the room, just to see what it would be like. Other examples might include Flatliners (1990), Crash (1996) and Fight Club (1999). (Am I forgetting any?) Unfortunately, in conjuring up these other examples, Pathology quickly collapsed in comparison.
Ted Gray (Milo Ventimiglia) is the newest member of a prestigious pathology program. He's extremely talented, engaged to the beautiful Gwen (Alyssa Milano) and on the fast track to success. As soon as he meets the arrogant Jake Gallo (Michael Weston), sparks fly. They begin an intellectual pissing contest, trying to outguess each other as to the causes of death on the program's mysterious corpses. Ted soon learns that Jake is the leader of a kind of secret club, and Jake in turn begins to feel that Ted has the stuff to join them. They meet in an old, abandoned subbasement of the hospital, consisting of dark hallways, unused equipment and empty rooms (does such a thing even exist?). In short, each member kills someone and then the others have to guess how they did it. It doesn't take a lot of convincing for Ted to start going along with it. He tries to tell himself that his victims (an accused pedophile, a man who shot his wife and child, tried to kill himself and missed) deserve what they get. He tells himself that we're all animals and that the instinct to kill is natural.
Of course, these types of clubs usually get out of hand. For some reason, whenever a victim is brought in, the group's two girls, Juliette (Lauren Lee Smith) and Catherine (Mei Melançon) begin making out and nibbling on each other's ears. Then Juliette, who is apparently sleeping with Jake, seduces Ted. (Nothing gentle or tender: they rip off each other's clothes after murders.) Ted also joins the others in smoking crack and indulging in other forms of debauchery. The trouble is that director Marc Schoelermann (a German-born filmmaker making his feature debut) never connects the sex and drugs with the murders. In David Cronenberg's masterful Crash, the sex and violence are brilliantly, inextricably intertwined. In one great scene, the "crash" club watches a car crash video and the VCR breaks and freezes in the instant before a crash. The people in the room tense up, suffering the agony of an interrupted orgasm. In Pathology, the sex and drugs are just something to pass the time before and after the murders. You'd think these smart kids who rationalize everything would at least justify their excessive behavior in connection with their "game," but these chatty geniuses -- who never shut up -- never even broach the subject.
Not that they behave like real people anyway. Ted speaks in polite, refined sentences as if he were a diplomat on an important mission (but all the while scowling). And Jake practically speaks in poetry (he quotes Wallace Stevens's "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" at one eerily appropriate moment). It sounds interesting, but doesn't sound like dialogue and it doesn't help connect the movie's scattered tissue. It's as if Schoelermann and screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the high-concept guys behind Crank) had more of a concept than a concrete idea. For example, when Ted makes his conversion from fresh-faced recruit to diabolical murderer and game-player, he allows his hair to move from its crisply combed part to hanging loosely over his forehead (Tobey Maguire's hair did the same thing in Spider-Man 3).That's a perfect example of how external this movie is. Schoelermann loves showing sliced-open corpses and bloodied surgical knives, but he doesn't seem to care much about who these people are, either alive or dead. Even Joel Schumacher's silly, all-surface Flatliners used its concept to dig up emotional centers for the characters; the medical students sent each other into near-death experiences so that they could finish their unfinished business. In Pathology, during a long day of examining dead flesh, Jake wonders aloud "Why are we here?" His answer is that he hates humanity; he feels superior to it. But later, the movie shows him to be simply nuts. Hence, he has no real reason for anything. This way the filmmakers get the easy way out. They aren't required to further elaborate on any theories about life or humanity. Clearly, these topics don't interest them in the least.