October 22, 2011

Exit Humanity (Review) - Toronto After Dark

Exit Humanity (2011)

Director: John Geddes
3.5 / 5 zedheads

Last night, I was in attendance at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival for the Toronto premiere of Exit Humanity, a Civil War-era zombie drama from writer/director John Geddes that stars newcomer Mark Gibson alongside horror alumni like Dee Wallace (The Howling), Brian Cox (Trick R Treat) and Bill Mosely (The Devil's Rejects).

Writer/director John Geddes (L) and festival director Adam Lopez (R) introduce
the Toronto premiere of Exit Humanity at Toronto After Dark 2011
Exit Humanity is a haunting and bleak exploration of violence and the human spirit that is beautifully shot and hinged on a striking breakout performance by Mark Gibson as Edward Young, a man pushed to his limits after zombies decimate his family.  However, despite its achievements, Exit Humanity is overly long and overly stuffed with melodrama. Watching Exit Humanity began as a pleasurable experience, but soon it felt as if I was being smothered in a wet cotton blanket of pathos.

Eat lead, zombie!
The story of Exit Humanity is read from the journal of Edward Young, narrated by Brian Cox. Beginning during the Civil War in 1865 when the dead start to rise, the story advances to the post-war period of 1871 where former-soldier Edward Young is trying to protect his family. After his family is killed by zombies, Young spirals into depression and anger, which he takes out on the flesh-eating ghouls that roam the forests. To find closure, Young debarks on a personal mission but soon finds himself helping a man named Issac (Adam Seybold) save his sister (Jordan Hayes) from the clutches of General Williams (Mosely). Williams is employing a weary surgeon (Pontypool's Stephen McHattie) to experiment on kidnapped humans and zombies in hopes of finding someone with immunity to the infection. Spliced throughout Exit Humanity are journal sketches that come to life on the screen in bursts of grisly animation. All together, it's an intriguing and engaging package.

You haven't been flossing regularly
The zombies in Exit Humanity follow in the model of Night of the Living Dead. They don't run, they feast on flesh, and they are afraid of fire. Brought to life by Jason and Jeff DeRushie (the SPFX makeup artists known as the Gore Brothers), the zombies look appropriately decayed and ghoulish. As in Romero's films, the zombies are athreat but mostly a background element, yet Exit Humanity doesn't skimp on the gore, the violence, or the head shots. Most of the film takes place out in the woods and in cabins, so the whole movie has a very cold atmosphere. Unfortunately, so does the drama.
Little House on the Zombie
Exit Humanity looks great, it has its scary moments, and the performances are generally solid, but Exit Humanity is an emotionally cold film that's overly serious and dramatically overwrought. While it's a good film, I don't think I can say it's entertaining. Mark Gibson spends a lot of the time casting his gaze up into the sky and screaming out his tortured soul while moping and ruminating on the horrors of the world. In one overblown scene, he's grieving for his son and smashing his fists on a table. Then, he leaves the room to kill a zombie, but comes back to flip the table. He must really hate that table. Later, angry characters sweep objects off tables in a rage. People splash water into their faces and stare longingly into the mirror. Mosely and Dee Wallace, who are genuinely good actors, give some dramatically overblown monologues. The music swells and over-punctuates every dramatic moment as if Exit Humanity were Lord of the Rings. It's all very excessive.

Dee Wallace gives praise to director John Geddes
 I noticed that the longer the movie ran, the more often the audience would laugh at points they weren't supposed to. There's very little humour in Exit Humanity, and very little emotional range except for anger, sadness, grief, and melancholy. Add to this the relentless horror of zombies and the large personalities of actors like Bill Mosely, and it's sometimes too much to bear without chuckling. As Roger Corman has said, you need to give the audience opportunities to laugh or they'll laugh when you don't want them to. Exit Humanity doesn't, and it suffers for it. You can be dramatic, sad, haunting, and touching without being this strained and exhaustive about it. Much like the Lord of the Rings films, there's much to recommend about Exit Humanity; however, its emotional center is cold and the film verges on the tedious at a running time of 114 minutes.

Thankfully, Geddes has given us a zombie film that's worthy of the horror and the bleakness of the Civil War-era period, but it's sometimes too bleak and too sombre for its own good.