Column: From Strange and Distant Shores: Anatomy (2000)

By Orrin Grey

AnatomyAnatomy (2000). Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky. Cast: Franka Potente, Benno Furmann. Country: Germany.

At a glance, Anatomy could be just about any horror movie, from just about any country. A promising young medical student (Franka Potente) gets into a prestigious school in Heidelberg (where her grandfather was once the dean). When she gets there, however, she begins to suspect that there’s something pretty fishy going on and that the bodies they’re dissecting aren’t all acquired in the most ethical of possible ways. No one believes her, of course, and she soon finds herself a target for the murderer. Pretty by-the-numbers.

And mostly, that’s just what Anatomy is: by-the-numbers, with only a handful of things that set it apart from the run-of-the-mill. The scenes of peril, the chases through the dark and the killing themselves are all fine, but they’re also all pretty rote. The obligatory sequences of involuntary surgery are never dragged out so much that they become cringe-inducing and most of the film takes place in a brightly-lit, sterile sort of environment that’s a welcome change from a lot of the “gritty” sets in more-recent torture movies.

In fact, the setting is one of Anatomy‘s strongest suits. The school itself is a big, imposing presence and the cityscapes of Heidelberg are often breathtaking when glimpsed in the background of a scene. The real winner, though, is the hall where the school keeps its anatomy specimens. Real human bodies, we’re told, partially-dissected and “plasticized” to preserve them, the displays are delightfully grotesque and serve as wonderfully spooky set-pieces for several key sequences.

The other, more-than-usually interesting facet of Anatomy is the villainous organization, the Anti-Hippocrates Society, a secret group at the heart of the movie’s mystery. They have ties back to Nazi medical experiments and their importance to the story (and to Franka Potente’s character) is major, and gives the proceedings a much-greater sense of history and scope than you’ll usually find in a run-of-the-mill college murder movie.

Plus, their relationship to the killings, when finally revealed, is a little different than you might expect.

Ultimately, there’s little enough in Anatomy that’s terribly different or memorable, but also not much that’s problematic. So, if you just want a nice, creepy movie about secret medical societies and human dissections, you could certainly do worse.

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