The Humans (2021) Movie Review – A weird and polarizing A24 film

Uncomfortable Truths

The Humans is basically a ghost story without any ghosts. It’s a creepy, unnerving movie about a tense Thanksgiving dinner, complete with jump scares and family secrets. Like a rollercoaster that only goes up, there’s a lot of anticipation for something to happen and yet, nothing really materializes. But that’s not to say the ride isn’t memorable.

The Humans isn’t a horror but if you go into this (like I did) completely blind then you’d be remiss for thinking otherwise. There are some genuinely creepy segments and the excellent framing, uncomfortably long shots and constant chatter about nightmares all lend themselves squarely into the conventional tropes of the horror genre.

Ultimately this is a double-edged sword for Showtime’s latest flick. On the one hand, the film is enthralling and likely to keep you watching until the very end to find out what happens. The only trouble is, half the audience will come away at that point feeling cheated when nothing happens. And that basically sums up what The Humans is.

This is a simple drama where three generations of the same family gather to discuss woes in their life, as resentments, fears and interpersonal issues simmer and eventually boil over.

Erik has a big secret he’s hiding from the kids, with visible tensions in the air with wife Deirdre. Because of this, Deirdre is stress eating again and “falling off the Weight Watchers bandwagon.”

Richard and Brigid have their own drama, while wheelchair-bound grandmother Momo is suffering from a nasty bout of dementia. Finally there’s Aimee, who spends most of the first half of this film on her phone, messaging her girlfriend.

The Humans’ runtime effortlessly moves between the different characters, using some absolutely gorgeous framing and camera techniques to make those effortless cuts. There are so many shots here of two separate rooms with characters busying themselves and preparing for dinner. The dividing wall between them, of course, visually showing the rifts at play in this family.

There are also long cuts where the camera smoothly enters a room and cycles around, plenty of symbolic shots depicting rot and mold on damp walls, and uncomfortable extreme close-ups of faces. It’s all cleverly done to make this as uncomfortable as possible, and for the most part it really works.

If you’re a movie buff and love looking at the deeper meaning of films, you’ll likely love this. In the same vein as something like Mother!, there will be two groups of people coming away from this. Half will see this as a waste of time while others will lean closer to seeing this as a really good film.

As a debut picture, Director Stephen Karam has certainly crafted food for thought but while some of the dishes are delicious and steaming hot, others are lukewarm and just miss the mark. But that’s not for the want of trying. The Humans is definitely an unusual and engaging picture though, but the lack of a pay-off to some of the more spooky elements is a little disappointing.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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