The Humans – Movie Review

Anyone who isn’t familiar with the source material can quickly deduce that The Humans originated on Broadway. This family dinner dramedy is a clear stage-to screen adaptation. It’s a single-location ensemble piece that gives the impression that its characters are onstage.

It is directed and adapted by Stephen Karam, the playwright behind the Tony Award-winning one act play. They’ve gathered together for Thanksgiving at the new space daughter Brigid (Feldstein) is moving into with her boyfriend Richard (Yeun). It’s a downtown Manhattan pre-war apartment that’s dingy, sparsely furnished, and cramped to both a comedic and overwhelmingly claustrophobic degree. Momo (Squibb), a dementia sufferer and wheelchair-bound grandmother, cannot get through the hallways.

Father Erik (Jenkins), mother Deirdre (“Houdyshell”), and sister Aimee (“Schumer”) are also present. As the night progresses, small talk and familial pleasantries become more strained as hostility and resentment begin to build. There are many secrets, gossip, and passive aggressive insults that are overheard. They are all conveyed with a lot of humor in the beginning stages and with some serious emotional gut-punches for when it gets difficult. The amazing ensemble really sells this material. You can feel the unspoken past between each family member in their smallest interactions.

This is only one side of the strange, experimental genre. The Humans is not only a horror movie about family problems, but it also functions as a haunted house movie. I wouldn’t be remiss to tell you everything about the tonal tightrope it walks. It feels like something sinister exists within these walls. It’s an old place and the lack of music paired with impeccable sound design highlights all the creaks in the floors and humming of electricity, but it’s something more than that. The banging from the upstairs neighbors seems louder than it should be, certain objects seem to move or fall for no reason, the apartment gets darker and darker as all the lightbulbs in the apartment inexplicably burn out – something supernatural or just bad wiring?

Lol Crawley’s cinematography accentuates the feeling of all-encompassing dread by making the most of every corner and crevice to the camera’s advantage. So many scenes are shot peeking around corners or from unusual, sometimes distant vantage points that makes you feel like you’re spying on this family, or perhaps someone (something?) You might be seeing someone else. There’s a particularly striking oner in the back half that sees the camera slowly circling behind the family at the dinner table for a near 10-minute take that makes you feel as though whatever presence this might be is closing in all around them.

Karam does a remarkable feat in genre-bending. The comedy and horror are not affected by each other. Each is built so naturally within drama: The laughs come from well-recognized characters and the terrors are an existential manifestation. The ultimate emotional blow-up is one that combines anguish with dread for a uniquely sublime yet ambiguous result. The razor-sharp balance this maintains is a rare achievement and it’s in service of astute notions – the humor, heartbreak, and sheer terror that comes with unconditionally loving and being loved.

Showtime available starting November 24

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