"The Humans" is adapted and directed by Stephen Karam, who is the creator of the Broadway play in which the film is based. It's highly-regarded, winning the 2016 Tony for Best Play, and was even a finalist for the Pulitzer. It's also noted as being incredibly frustrating to audiences, as it offers no easy answers to some of the questions it raises.
That frustration carries over to the movie, so "The Humans" will surely be a divisive film. But for those patient enough to stick with it, they'll be rewarded with one of the more unique and high-brow haunted house films that you'll ever come across.
The setting - like many stage adaptations that make the jump to the big-screen - is pretty much the same for the duration. It's Thanksgiving, and the Blake Family is gathering at the Manhattan apartment of daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun). Parents Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell, the only actor from the Broadway version to act in the movie, reprising her stage role) are in from Scranton, Pennsylvania, along with Erik's dementia-suffering mother, Momo (June Squib). Their oldest daughter, Aimee (Amy Schumer) is also present.
As the characters talk about things, there are loud noises that come from the apartment above...at first an annoyance but growing in intensity and strangeness as the night develops. We never quite learn or understand what these noises represent...just one of several metaphors to decipher as we make our way through "The Humans."
Each character is dealing with their own mess, their own vices. A lot of them feel trapped, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. What does it all mean?
There's no question that "The Humans" is a challenging film...casual movie-goers beware. What Karam does so successfully though is how he presents his film visually, and it's his visual style that may keep you interested in hanging in there. Karam brilliantly duplicates the experience of a theater-goer, who is free to hone in on anything they'd like during a performance...you are free to look at the actors if you'd like, or at a set piece, or at a mark on the stage floor. In the film, the camera often focuses on odd or otherwise irrelevant details...often times the actual "scene" seems to be taking place off-camera, while the camera focuses on a feather, or a light switch. The cinematography is also striking when it DOES showcase its humans...often framing them through doorways, further emphasizing the claustrophobic "trapped" feel of its subjects.
Is "The Humans" a horror story? A family drama? Both? Neither? There's a lot to like here if you dig deep...the concern is that Karam hasn't offered his audience a spoon, let alone a shovel.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, June Squibb.
Adapted from the play "The Humans" by Stephen Karam.
Written and Directed by Stephen Karam (feature-film debut).
"The Humans" is in theaters on Friday, November 19th, 2021.
Below is an interview with Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell and writer/director Stephen Karam:
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