Paula Henning (Franka Potente) is determined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps and be a top doctor, so is delighted when she is accepted at a prestigious medical school. She tells her elderly grandfather, who is dying in hospital, but her father is less impressed, having fallen out with his father and not wanting Paula to end up in the same profession. On the train to Heidelberg, she meets Gretchen (Anna Loos), and they strike up a friendship, but the journey is interrupted when a young man collapses - Paula revives him and learns that he suffers from a rare heart defect. So imagine Paula's surprise when she attends her anatomy classes to find that the body she must dissect is of the young man on the train. There's something sinister going on, and she is only just waking up to it...
This slick medical chiller was written by the director, Stefan Ruzowitsky, and capitalises on the dread of sterile medical establishments where they cut up bodies for coldly scientific reasons. As for Paula, she is dedicated (Potente makes for a plucky heroine as usual), unlike the sex-obsessed Gretchen, but shows the human side to medicine, so we immediately warm to her over the more impersonal doctors and staff at the university. The other students seem decent enough, if a little too frivolous for Paula's taste, as some of them set up a joke where a headless body twitches to scare the unwary newcomers; Paula's analytical mind soon tracks down the cause, however.
The film also capitalises on the uneasy fascination with our internal workings, and even shows lookalike parts of the exhibition of actual, dissected bodies that had been in the news at the time, adding to the queasy atmosphere (and setting up a nasty end for one of the charcaters). In a grisly scene early on, a man is seen waking up on a hospital operating table, gradually becoming aware that he has been opened up and that masked doctors are removing his organs while he is still alive (the muzak playing is a grimly humorous touch). The same thing happens to the man from the train, but he leaps up before any damage is done, only to be stabbed by one of the doctors. Which is why he ends up as a body for the students to examine later on.
And examine him Paula does, discovering that his blood has been strangely treated, putting her on the trail of a shadowy group of surgeons who are conducting illegal experiments. She learns they are known as the A.A.A., or the Anti-Hyppocratic Lodge, due to their initials being conveniently carved on the man from the train's ankle, and from then on she is embroiled in a conspiracy to keep the Freemason-like society secret (when we see their meeting, they are dressed in robes, like a religious cult). Nobody is to be trusted, as far as Paula can work out, because the students are involved too, and when Gretchen disappears, she realises she might be next on the hitlist; naturally, the police aren't interested in her vague theories and lack of proof.
Anatomie is well handled, possibly due to the film makers keeping us just one step ahead of Paula (we know what's happened to Gretchen before she does, for example), but not so far ahead that we know too much so any suspense flies out of the window. There are some solid scare sequences, as when Paula discovers fresh blood poured onto her bed as a warning, or near the end where she has to persuade another character to inject her with the antidote to a paralysing drug she has been given. Obviously aiming for a glossy, Hollywood look, the film succeeds more than adequately, and adds in a theme about certain elements of the younger generation being corrupted by the wickedness of the older generation for good measure. It won't push back any boundaries, but it's efficient enough for all that. Music by Marius Ruhland, and followed by a sequel, also featuring Potente.