Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Exit Humanity


Four years after his directorial debut with winter chiller, Scarce (2008), John Geddes returns with this gritty zombie meets American West drama.

It’s 1865 in Tennessee, in the midst of the brutal American Civil War, and Edward Young returns from a hunting trip to find his wife contaminated with a violent disease and his son missing. Being forced to shoot dead his beloved wife, he searches the forests for his son - but it isn’t long until he finds him in a similar infected state. His life ripped from him, Edward has nothing left. Believed to have failed as a man, husband and father, he is desperate to fulfil his last promise to his son and take him to a waterfall. Edward packs his son’s ashes and begins his journey, leaving his former and once-content life burning to the ground.

The ‘story,’ told as a first hand account from a diary that Edward kept during his ordeal, is framed by a series of chapters and narrated by Malcolm Young (Brian Cox), an ancestor to Edward and the beholder of his diary. While voice-over narration can often seem displaced and fall victim to becoming detached from the interior diegesis, the storytelling here is well upheld and well-balanced throughout. And what better voice to expresses the overwhelming emotions of battle- of remorse and pain, of anger and vengeance- than King Lear himself, Brian Cox.

Frequent but short animations of sketchbook illustrations give the picture another attractive dimension, being graphically impressive whilst constantly reminding the viewer of the raw storytelling format.

The first chapter of the account deals firstly with Edward’s unbearable sadness and the agony he feels over the loss of his loved ones, and secondly with his conflicting curiosity with the zombie-like, plague-stricken people. Edward studies the newly developed, irrational behaviour of an infected neighbour, taking notes of their biting nature in order to aid survival.

Exit Humanity disregards modern cinematic advances in zombie narratives. Here, we scrap the past century of the likes of Romero and Fulci and return to the very roots of zombie-ism. Portrayed as the world’s first encounter of the walking dead, we are offered a refreshingly unique take on an apocalyptic disaster quite like never before.

The figures themselves are not racing around the forest with gruesome dishevelled features and missing half a head. Recently revived in the likes of ongoing TV series The Walking Dead, they boast simplicity and are tastefully crafted (as tasteful as a discoloured face, black eyes and drooling mouths can be!) For blood-thirsty fans that thrive on blood, guts and gore, this is not the film for them – perhaps see the previous review for a film of this disposition.

The contaminated population are not the malicious, inhumanly strong and overly threatening figures, but portrayed as rather sympathetically helpless- as monsters that once were men- as Edward fearlessly clings onto his affected son whilst crying out in despair.

It would be easy to label Exit Humanity as a zombie movie. But that wouldn’t do justice to Geddes. The word ‘zombie’ is never used in the film, the contamination being referred to as simply “another plague.” As General Williamson’s doctor fails to understand what the disease is, it is eventually explained to have been caused by a supernatural curse – another nicely fitting flagpole of the 19th century era and a somewhat different, but welcome, reasoning from that of the conventional scientific-experiment-gone-wrong justification.

The battle is not with the “plague” as such and Geddes never seriously initiates a human versus zombie feud. Instead, it is with General Williamson (Bill Moseley) and his possy who have heard that someone has immunity to the fatal bites. Prepared to kidnap and kill to get hold of “the one” and use them to produce a cure, is it the undead or living who really exit humanity? Moseley seems to have recently grasped the villain role firmly with two hands. First playing a child killer in Robert Lieberman’s The Tortured (2010) and now pulling off a convincing performance as a dastardly war captain trying to seize control of the population and showing no mercy for the innocent. Gibson however carries a large amount of the film as our true war hero, sweetly counterbalancing the wickedness of Moseley’s character. His emotional capacity is stretched by Geddes - and it certainly pays off. Gibson provides a truly compelling and heartbreaking performance of a lost man desperately trying to seek hope and redemption which he carries well throughout.

And of course, it would be hard to ignore the casting of much loved horror veteran Dee Wallace as an exiled witch ‘Eve’. With the ability to add grace to any horror film, this role fits our horror icon like a mask to a monster …[and is perhaps a warm-up for her more recent role as a guru in Rob Zombie’s upcoming The Lords of Salem, set for release later this year!]
After 108 minutes and when the credits started to roll, I struggled to uphold my initial thoughts that this was going to be a horror film. Yes, it has some resemblances to the established zombie film, but includes traditional conventions of the Action and Adventure, and even the Western style (with a two man gun stand off to conclude the combat) that we cannot ignore.

What Geddes unveils is well balanced, mixed-genre film revealing a true depiction of an honest man who has lost everything; an autobiographical tale of a broken man, stricken with grief and riddled with sorrow to the point of suicide, who finds a new reason to live. He learns to embrace a world of darkness; to embrace a life amongst the walking dead.

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