10/2/12

Exit Humanity (2011) Stage Left, Even

I think many of us can agree that the zombie is getting a bit played out on movie screens these days. Second only to vampires, these mindless shamblers seem to pop up incessantly both on the big screen and, even more frequently, the direct to video market. So when I was looking for a zombie themed movie to talk about today, I waded through a lot of silly dreck. As if fighting vampires wasn’t enough, a knockoff company has our 16th president going up against the undead in a low budget release, another film features stoners using zombie brains to fertilize pot, and still another pits bloodsuckers against vampires to fight for the fate of mankind (which I don’t see working out either way that battle goes.) Despite the fact that the name of this film gave me a chance to make a Snagglepuss joke in my title, there’s little to nothing funny about the 2011 release Exit Humanity. Instead it is a sobering zombie film which tackles real issues, contains actual moments of suspense, made a period setting seem natural, and, get this, did it all on a low, low budget. While Exit Humanity might sound like all hope is lost, instead the film gave me hope of light at the end of the zombie tunnel.


Mark Gibson stars as Edward Young, a man who has just returned home after six long years fighting on the losing side of the Civil War. Things don’t get any better when he gets home to discover his wife and child dead as well as a countryside littered with what several characters refer to as the “Dead Walk”. Making his way though the countryside and mountains, Edward intends to find a serene spot to place his family’s ashes, but everywhere he goes, flesh eating monsters seem to be waiting right around the corner. He soon finds a companion in Isaac (Adam Seybold), another ex-Confederate looking for his sister who has been taken captive by General Williams (Bill Mosley). With Edward’s help, Isaac’s sister Emma (Jordon Hayes) is freed, and they all take refuge at the home of witchy woman Eve (Dee Wallace). However, Emma’s blood may hold an inoculation against the plague sweeping the recently dead, and Williams, a man still at war with his country, is bound and determined to have it.

When zombie movies came of age in the 1970s, much was made about Romero’s use of zombies as a means to discuss militarism, racism, and consumerism. Since then, his movies have tried to latch themselves on to several -isms, but with all failing results. I always find this to be too bad as I crave deeper meaning with my zombie movies more than with any horror subgenre. Exit Humanity really delivers on this front. While the characters actions often illustrate man’s inhumanity to man, the film itself is hopeful about the fate of the human race. In voiceover, actor Brian Cox narrates the film by reading from Edward Young’s diaries.  Though this inner monolog of Edward, we learn he begins his journey feeling like this, “I have failed as a man, as a husband, as a father. I am already dead.”

However even being surrounded by mobs of zombies, his friends always in jeopardy, and death shooting forth from his six shooter, often with wild abandon, Edward’s arc in the film leads him to a point where he has found another life. He says, “Life is full of pain and it always will be, but it’s the small things that keep us going. The people who surround us, and remind us, that we are still alive.” This sea change from the main character both speaks to the resilience of the human spirit, but I think it also has a commentary about war linked in with it. It is known that many veterans return from war with the inability to put it behind them. With time, understanding, and love, many of them can end the war still going on inside them. This is what I feel happens to Edward. As the flip side of the coin, Bill Mosley’s General is a man possessed.

What really sells the high minded ideals included in Exit Humanity are the performances. While the film features three recognizable faces, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s Bill Mosley, E.T.’s Dee Wallace, and Watchmen’s Stephen McHattie, who were all quite good, it is the unknown actors who really shine here. Mark Gibson, whose only other major credit is the horror comedy Monsters Brawl, channels something akin to Viggo Mortinsen performance from The Road, but less dire, and really fills the film with the emotional resonance needed to carry the themes. Adam Seybold provides some small lightness to the film with his portrayal of Isaac, and Jordon Hayes, who has a role in the recently released House at the End of the Street, delivers as the film’s MacGuffin. The entire cast brings performances that match the tone of the film, and there wasn’t even an uneven portion from a bit player. Exit Humanity is one of the most solidly acted new horror films I have seen in ages.

That is not to say that the film is not without a few problems. Director John Geddes, who also helmed the 2008 snowboarders meet cannibals feature Scarce, has made with Exit Humanity a film that should just really be talked about as a great independent feature, but because it contains the undead, will probably only be beloved by genre fans. Mixing elements of horror films, Westerns, and Anime (almost all flashback scenes are shown though animation as if Edward’s pictures in his diary are coming to life), Geddes challenges the audience with the format, the tone, and the pacing of the film. At nearly two hours, it almost felt a bit overlong, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t have wanted any of the action to be rushed as it would have felt forced. As events open up gradually, it gives the feature more weight to go behind its message. That being said, many will probably find the pacing slow and boring especially if what you’re looking for is fast zombies and Resident Evil style effects. Many of the actual practical effects in the film do look very nice, and horror film purists will note that I spotted little to no CGI in the works. My only criticism of the film’s makeup style would be about the zombies themselves who look more ashen and grey than they probably really need to. If taken as a slight homage to the Romero zombie, it is enjoyable to see, but as the rest of the film feels so real, it is a misstep in an otherwise near-perfect film.

Exit Humanity will not be the zombie film for everyone. It will not appeal to those who need constant explosions or heads to get double tapped at every turn. However, for those who want and long for something a little more with your horror films, something worthy of sinking your teeth into for a change, Exit Humanity does an excellent job of taking horror conventions and grafting them in to what is essentially an art film without destroying the integrity of the genre offering. With Grave Encounters 2 yesterday and Exit Humanity today, I feel like I’m on a roll of good titles, and nothing is more surprising to me than the fact they are both relatively new films. It gives me good reason to think that the horror genre, while often filled with lowest common denominator films, still has some new directions to go in. It also reminds me of a quote from Edward’s diary near the end of Exit Humanity, “Be brave. Be bold. Be prepared, and always fight for a new beginning.” If these two films, and others like them, signal a new, higher minded trend in horror, well then I am brave enough to watch more new releases, bold enough to try out films I don’t think I’ll like, prepared to let you folks know what the real deal is, and I’m always ready to fight for a new beginning in the genre I hold most dear.

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, just saw this last week, thought it was decent. A little slow in parts, but if the budget was really 300K, it's even more impressive.

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  2. I really liked the style and time period of the film. I was hoping it would be more episodic as it seemed to strain early on in moving the story along. Still, I'd like to see more zombie period pieces like this and hope Geddes does something just as atmospheric and classy with his next attempt.

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  3. I really enjoyed this one as well and agreed, the performances really make it. I haven't seen Bill Moseley this 'into' a genre role in quite some time. He was excellent.

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  4. I wanted to like this movie so much more than I could. I appreciated the setting, different styling, performances, and commitment all around, but ultimately, I was just so gosh darn bored. I'll definitely look forward to the director's future work, as he clearly has a whole lot of potential and knows how to use money. I just hope his next effort is a tad tighter.

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