Sunday, August 5, 2012

Exit Humanity (2011)

The end of the US Civil War marks the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, at least in Tennessee, where Exit Humanity takes place. Six years after the beginning of that particular end, veteran Edward Young (Mark Gibson) returns from a hunting excursion to his cabin in the woods to find his wife a zombie and his little son gone.

Edward begins to roam the area around his home until he finds the kid, also as one of the walking dead. After Edward kills has killed him, he at first tries to kill himself too, now that everyone he loved and everything he believed in is gone. But a not quite successful attempt at that, and the look at a picture of a waterfall many days of travel away that gave Edward hope all through the war changes his mind. Before he'll die, he wants to throw his son's ashes into the waters to give him at least some semblance of peace.

On his travel there, Edward meets a man named Isaac (Adam Seybold), whose sister Emma (Jordan Hayes) has been abducted by former General Williams (Bill Moseley) for his pet "doctor" Johnson (Stephen McHattie) to experiment on, the witch Eve (Dee Wallace), and just possibly reasons to regain his own humanity.

Whenever I think a certain sub-genre of horror movies has finally reached the point of oversaturation, that nothing of further interest can be done in it anymore, a movie like John Geddes's Exit Humanity appears and actually manages to be a fantastic zombie movie at a point when such a thing seemed increasingly improbable to me. Exit Humanity also manages to be yet another excellent entry among the growing number of horror westerns.

What makes this particular film so special are a handful of things. Most obviously, there's the film's unhurried pacing that isn't caused by the typical indie horror problem of a script that's burying its core themes and plot in boring minutiae, but really is what the film's mood and its characters call for. There are long and important scenes of Mark Gibson alone with nature that are quite a bit more exciting than anyone could have expected. Geddes knows when and how to end scenes (another of my indie horror pet peeves is that too many directors don't seem to know how to do that at all), which slow moments to show because they are important for an audience to understand the characters, and which dramatic moments not to show.

Exit Humanity is a handy reminder that the quality and rhythm of a movie are determined as much by the things one leaves out (we never get to see Edward killing his undead wife, for example, but only witness the aftermath) as by those one includes. I was also very impressed by Geddes's ability to provide the film with a sense of place and time, making impressive use of the landscape of Ontario that may not be strictly authentic as a portrayal of woods in Tennessee but feel real and alive to me; the rather lavish (and free as in beer) nature of the landscape also provides Exit Humanity with the best enhancement of its bleak yet hopeful mood a film could hope for.

Additionally, the director makes two decisions that sound horrible on paper, yet in practice work out very well. Showing some of the film's more dramatic sequences in pretty rough animation may be a budgetary decision (or it may not be), but it's a decision that just works, giving these moments a quality of the mythical or the nightmarish that is perhaps more effective than just another action scene would have been. Strangely effective directorial decision number two is to have large parts of the plot and philosophical musings of Edward being narrated by the off-screen voice of Brian Cox. I generally hate off-screen monologues, but - again - Exit Humanity's mostly just works. Cox has just the right voice for the monologues he's given, and the film seldom falls into the trap of only telling its audience the things it is already seeing. The primary reason for the voiceovers may be to fill in some gaps in the plot, yet his voiceovers don't feel like an inorganic stop-gap; in fact, it's hard to imagine the film working as well as it does without them.

The acting is Exit Humanity's final trump card. The well-known actors in smaller roles (a traditional element in independent horror movies) are doing a fine job here, with nobody just slumming for a cheque for a day's work (so no Michael Madsen). The true stars are the lesser known Gibson, Seybold and Hayes though. The trio go through the film's more difficult moments with grace and style, always keeping their characters from becoming the horror movie clichés they could have been in less capable hands.

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