Morality and Mortality in "Pathology"
Death, to most people, is a fairly abstract concept. Pathologists, though, deal with the physical reality of death. They face daily reminders that the human body is easily broken. Reminders that every one of us has an expiration date.
Pathology, a new horror-thriller which came out in limited release on April 18th, gives us a look at a group of medical students that deal with death by pushing their own lives to the limits. Drugs, twisted sex and murder are just recreational activities for these characters.
“We've numbed ourselves to what death is to many people - to whatever that provokes,” says Michael Weston, who plays Dr. Jake Gallo. “And that numbness has caused us to try and find out what really makes us alive. My character has a bunch of friends that he corrals into this 'game' of murder. ”
In this game, the characters take turns committing murder in subtle and creative ways. The challenge, then, is for the other characters to figure out exactly how the victim was killed.
Dr. Ted Grey (Milo Ventimiglia) joins the forensic pathology program at a prestigious university and immediately becomes the star student. He forms an antagonistic friendship with Dr. Gallo and is drawn into Gallo’s hedonistic world. The intellectual challenge of Gallo’s homicidal game hooks Grey, but he soon finds himself caught up in something darker than he’d ever imagined.
In preparation for their roles, the actors got up close and personal with real bodies at the morgue.
“The first body I saw was hanging from some chains and was just dripping with goo,” Johnny Whitworth (Dr. Griffin Cavenaugh) “It been found in such a state of decomposition that it was just gnarly. It was like in a movie. It didn't seem real to me.”
“As you walk out you'll see the dude's sneakers and his jeans that he had just been wearing and it's frighteningly close to home,” says Weston.
“It's so palpable. Because he wears sneakers. And jeans,” Whitworth teases Weston. “I actually didn't really have that much of an emotional reaction because of the lack of humanity in the place. The people were, to me, just empty carcasses. It didn't look real. Which says a lot for the soul.”
“There was a murder-suicide that came in while I was there,” Whitworth continues. “The man had just come in and he had been dead about four days so the rigor mortis had all loosened and he was flexible and he was the only person I touched. It really brought this thing to reality. The weight of death. I grabbed his arm and it was just like,” he drops his arm on the table with a thump. “That was creepy to me. That was the thing that really took me aback. This was real. This guy was alive like six days ago, until his wife went crazy.”
“The guys that were down in the morgue had this sort of morbid, ironic sense of humor about life and death,” Weston says.
“You could hear Dean Martin playing when you're walking around the halls of the coroner's office,” Whitworth says.
“While they're like, opening up a ribcage with shears,” Weston adds.
When playing the homicidal ringleader Gallo, Weston started with the human aspect of the character and worked through it to find the psychopath. “It all comes from a place of something very real and it's not craziness as much as sort of a tortured realism. That's where a psychopath comes in because they're trying, somewhere, to very much make sense out of life. And to me that's the driving force behind the craziness.”
A trailer for Pathology shows a clip of Dr. Gallo receiving acupuncture, which seems somewhat out-of-place among the sex and death. Weston, who discusses his character’s murderous hobbies without blinking, turns red when asked about the acupuncture.
“My character got off on that,” he admits. “That's pretty much what it was. I liked it. It was part of his testing his sexual boundaries and trying to feel that prick of life.”
“Just before she starts sticking him, she punches him in the face,” adds Whitworth.
“Yes, she does do that,” says Weston. “Which I also like, it turns out.”
“This [movie] - as a piece - is just, like, psychologically f**k-all,” says Whitworth. “It screws with your head. You follow the characters and you get caught up in the realism of the piece so that when you're done you sit back and digest that he's taking someone's brain out of their head.“
“It’s a creepy, rich world to live in for the movie and it's shot beautifully,” says Weston. “The bodies that we were dealing with looked and felt so real that you'd get really engrossed in the scene. That was a pleasure to act in, but at the same time it was sort of like, whoa, look what we've been living in for the last month.”
Writers Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine like their protagonists morally ambiguous. “This is one thing the movie has in common with [their previous movie] Crank and probably all of our writing. The person we're telling you is the hero may be engaging in the most anti-social, sociopathic behavior imaginable but you're still going to like him, despite that if you really knew somebody who was doing these things you wouldn't want anything to do with them,” says Taylor. “Part of where this movie came from is - how far can we take an audience and find something for them to identify with that they didn't even know they had?”
Taylor continues, “There's a key line in the movie where they go around and ask each other, 'If you could kill anyone, who would you kill?' And Milo's character finally says, 'Look, we're all animals, we're all killers down inside. We're civilized, we're socialized, we don't do it, we just talk about it, but if we really could, if we really could do it and get away with it? If we could kill anyone at all? We'd kill anyone. We'd kill anyone we could.' And there's a little grain of truth in that. We want people to squirm a little in their seat when they watch the movie, like, 'wow, is it in me? I wonder.'”
So who would they kill? Taylor says, “If Mark and I wanted somebody dead that bad, then it would already have been done.”