I know that many sites might list it as such, but Anatomy didn’t really fit the definitions I have set to be a horror film. It didn’t seem to try to scare me, even if it had a couple of scenes that will make you squirm, and it was far more interested in being a mystery movie with some random deaths going around everywhere. Oh, and there might be a secret cult. I wouldn’t want to spoil too much.
Our film stars Franka Potente as Paula Henning, a medical student who, after placing second in the country at some test, is accepted into an elitist school called Heidelberg. She shows us that she’s smart, while also showing a willingness — some might call it an eagerness — to deal with cadavers. She performs random dissections for fun, and is ostensibly at this place to become one of the best doctors in the world. Her professor, Grombek (Traugott Buhre), tells them that they have multiple tests scheduled, and the bottom six students after each test will be removed from the school. There is also a research component to the course, and she’ll have to complete that, whatever it is, by the end of the term.
From what I saw over the course of Anatomy, I don’t think she did any work on that project. She must be really gifted, as she never seemed to study for her tests either. But her professor likes her, and she never gets forced to leave, so I guess the film decided to skim over any studying that she, or any of the other students, must do. Instead, after dissecting a man whose life she earlier saved (he had a heart condition and passed out, was saved, and we later see him being gassed and dragged off into the darkness), she begins to research something else. She believes that a cult called the AAA (these letters were etched into this man’s skin) is still around, despite being banned for their practices in previous centuries.
Perhaps I have given away too much. It’s possible that you don’t want to know that there is possibly a cult and that it becomes the prime focus of everything in the film. But when it is featured so prominently, and its inclusion and discovery dictates the entire genre the film has, I believe it necessary to mention this. Most of the film is spent with Paula as she goes around and tries to figure out just what’s really going on at Heidelberg. You’ve seen this type of film before.
Because there’s no way to have a film set in a university without adding in a superfluous love story, Paula is introduced to Caspar (Sebastian Blomberg), who pursues her with the more determination than one might think or expect. Paula also has a roommate, Gretchen (Anna Loos), who is dating a man named Hein (Benno Fürmann). There is little room for these subplots, and they become very inconsequential as Anatomy progresses. It even leads to the revelation of a plot twist which doesn’t add up to anything or matter in the least. I’ll admit that it was surprising, but since it had no impact on anything in the film, I couldn’t muster enough energy to applaud the deception that Anatomy used to hide it from me.
There are a couple of other twists scattered throughout. These ones actually mattered, even if they weren’t shocking. The only tension that Anatomy manages to generate comes from the fact that the people who dragged that earlier guy appeared from out of nowhere then, and therefore could do the same to Paula. If there is a cult at the school, anyone and everyone could be a member. Hey, maybe Paula’s even on the inside. We learn early enough that her grandfather used to be involved with the school. Maybe she’s really just luring her fellow classmates into death traps?
That one element actually works quite well, even if it’s not utilized as effectively and frequently as it could have been. Most of the film is tense, although never truly scary. If you’re going into this film expecting a lot of scares, you’re not going to be happy after it’s over. If you want a mystery film with a somewhat intelligent main character, you’ll probably be okay. However, squeamish audience members might want to avoid Anatomy, as, like the title indicates, the human body gets involved quite frequently, usually to be sliced open in one way or another. The body is also often dissected while the person is still alive, leading to some really spine-tingling scenes.
The thing I liked most about Anatomy was its sense of humor. Most of the comedic situations involve black comedy, which was right up my alley. Granted, it was the subtitles that did the telling (because I’m not listening to that awful dubbed version), but I appreciated the jokes nonetheless. I laughed more frequently while watching this movie than I felt scared. It does a good job of keeping things tense while also keeping the overall tone light, and if there’s one reason to watch this movie, it’s for this reason. It’s fun because it can give you chills and laughs.
Anatomy is an odd film. It’s a mystery-thriller with some pitch-black humor scattered throughout, while also containing a great deal of scenes that can make you uncomfortable simply because they show live humans being cut up. There are unnecessary subplots and this isn’t a scary film by any stretch of the imagination, but it has effective actors and is, on the whole, fairly enjoyable. Just, please, do yourself a favor and watch the subtitled version with the German language track. You’ll be really glad you did.