The holidays can be hell.The Humans shows a family trapped in the purgatory that is an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.
Set inside a pre-war duplex in downtown Manhattan, the Blake family gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving. As darkness falls outside the crumbling building, mysterious things start to go bump in the night and family tensions reach a boiling point.
When one thinks of films set in New York, they often present the notion that everyone, no matter what their vocation, is able to live in a fancy loft apartment in Tribeca. This is a film that bursts that bubble and shows that moving to New York and being able to afford anything other than a crummy apartment is sadly much more realistic.
Transferring his own Tony Award-winning play to the big screen, there was always a danger of the film being unable to shake off its single setting and looking like a straight adaptation. However, and it almost pains one to say this, particularly when it is set in Manhattan, the apartment does feel like another character in the story. The way it is tightly shot, almost trapping the characters within the building, gives it a foreboding, oppressive tone. With all the cracks, damp and crumbling plaster, it is as broken and dysfunctional as the family within its four walls.
While not as explosive as Hereditary‘s “I am your mother!” scene, there is a similar level of (initially unexpressed) bitterness and rage within the family unit. What begin as gentle pokes and barbs evolve into twisted shots and devastating truths to be uncovered.
The entire cast from Jayne Houdyshell reprising her role from Broadway to Feldstein, Squibb, Schumer and Yeun is uniformly excellent. The standout however, is Richard Jenkins as the patriarch.
He begins the film as the protective father who is naturally concerned with his daughter’s choice of accommodation. Disapprovingly inspecting the rusty pipes or complaining about the banging coming from upstairs. Yet he is clearly battling with something inside. Often seen staring off into space, he is brought back to earth with a number of jump scares as someone calls for him to join them at the table. As the alcohol begins to flow and inhibitions relax, the truth starts to bubble up to the surface. Loose lips sink ships after all. Here is a man who is dealing with a lot. It is revealed he has potential PTSD after being at the site of 9/11 on that fateful day. He is also having nightmares about a faceless lady. With his mother suffering from dementia, he is clearly contemplating death. Comments like “shoudn’t it cost less to be alive” reveal his frustration with the world and he chastises his daughter’s obsession with costly healthy eating fads, “If you are so miserable, why are you trying to live forever?!”.
As night falls, the darkness within Eric and the others slowly takes over the duplex. Fuses blow, candles dim to the point that where this taut family drama has transformed into a horror film. Writer-director Karam and cinematographer Lou Crawley use the location, lighting and performances to wring every drop of tension and dread from this unexpected setting.
A comment about “a zombie show on TV”, cue eyes on Stephen Yeun, leads to a discussion about a graphic novel where aliens, etc told stories about these monsters that kept hunting them. Only the monsters were us. Humans.
The Humans is A24‘s scariest film of the year. One that does reveal the truth that no matter how we may appear on the service, true horror and hell is other people…
The Humans is in cinemas from December 26 and on Curzon Home Cinema now
Director: Stephen Karam
Stars: Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen Yeun, Amy Schumer
Runtime: 108 minutes