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  • Nate Adams

'Humane' review: A great premise salvages undercooked thriller

Courtesy of IFC Films


With the recent release of “Civil War” and now “Humane,” cautionary tales about what could happen in our country’s not-so-distant future seems to be a new cinematic trend. The former envisioned what a post-apocalyptic, modern-day civil unrest would look like, and Caitlin Cronenberg’s “Humane” tries to put a unique spin on how climate change will kill us in different, unique ways. Considering the ineptitude of the elected officials we have had, and will continue to have, in office; I wouldn’t put it past extremists to, like they do in “Humane,” deploy a euthanization program to reduce the human population because we didn’t take global warming seriously. 


Obviously, Cronenberg is dealing with satirical elements and “Humane” doesn’t get into the weeds on how the world might respond to a crisis of this magnitude. After all, this isn’t a disaster film, rather, it’s a domesticated thriller where a wealthy family (who give big “Succession” meets “The Fall of the House of Usher” vibes) must come face-to-face with the harsh realities of their environment and make tough choices. Sadly, the world building from writer Michael Sparga is more interesting than the end result as “Humane” fails to expand beyond its incredible hook. Cronenberg, daughter to David Cronenberg, shows real poise as a rising filmmaker, but the script’s horror/comedic elements often clash with the consequential undertones teased throughout the movie. The characters, led by comedic actor Jay Baruchel, are also very thinly sketched. 


The primary focus of the movie revolves around the York family, headed by patriarch Charles (Peter Gallagher), a retired news anchor who has decided to voluntarily enlist in the country’s euthanasia program. In the world of “Humane,” an ecological fallout has left the Earth in shambles. Ultraviolet rays from the sun require citizens to put special films on their windshields and umbrellas to avoid being burned alive, while food sources are running scarce. To reduce the burden on society, the government has ordered a population reduction of 20% wherein people can essentially sacrifice themselves for the sustainability of mankind. The families of those impacted are paid a tax-free lump sum of $250k. There are daily commercials broadcasted across the nation thanking those who have enlisted like soldiers who died in Vietnam.


Charles has gathered his family, including political pundit Jared (Baruchel), a controversial pharmaceutical CEO Rachel (Emily Hampshire), an aspiring actress Ashely (Alanne Bale) and adopted sibling/recovering addict Noah (Sebastian Chacon), to let them know of his plans. This, of course, doesn’t sit well and they, showing off their immense privilege, suggest that people of their stature (wealthy and white) aren’t the ones who should be worried about the government’s population problem.


But Charles is dead set on his wishes, and it’s not long before a subcontractor for the government named Bob (played by Enrico Colantoni) is knocking on the door ready to administer the procedure and collect the bodies. That is until Dawn, Charles' wife, gets cold feet and retracts her commitment, leaving Bob and his gang of machine wielding goons to force one of the York children to take her place. If they fail to decide within two hours, one will be made for them. 

 This pivot from the complexities of the world into something more intimate might yield some fun confessionals and moral/ethical debates on familiar bonds, but it also leads to a wild third act where battle lines are drawn, and the York family must confront a difficult task. Things quickly go off the rails, though the deeper conversation about playing God and choosing who lives or dies just isn’t there. Instead, “Humane” devolves into the basic equivalent of a slasher film, complete with characters brandishing ax’s, forks, and other sharp implements in a bid to defend themselves from distraught family members. 


Some of the banter and character interactions are slightly amusing, especially with the presence of Colantoni who is both fun to watch and appears to be in a completely different movie (part of me wishes the film would have just focused on his interesting career). When the dust settles, “Humane” still ends up being a cheeky, bloody little thriller that thrives on the fascinating breadcrumbs teased from its stellar concept, but it’s stifled momentum in the second half and eventual endgame, which doesn’t tell audiences anything they couldn’t have already heard from their families arguing at the dinner table, holds it back.


Grade: B-


HUMANE opens in theaters Friday, April 26th before an eventual streaming release on Shudder later this summer.


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