Exit Humanity (2011)
Brian Cox (Malcolm Young/Narrator), Mark Gibson (Edward Young), Adam Seybold (Isaac), Jordan Hayes (Emma), Bill Moseley (General Williams), Dee Wallace (Eve), Stephen McHattie (Medic Johnson)
“My name is Malcolm Young. I possess a sacred journal passed down through generations of my family, dating back to the American Civil War; a grim legend layered with drawings and dark passages that recount a fateful tale of the living dead. Hidden for decades, my cross to bear, I read it to you now as a warning of how we should govern ourselves in such times.
“If you are reading this journal, then my intent is granted. My name is Edward Young. It all started at the end of the war, it was as though he was alive but had been stripped of his soul. Unable to die, he was a monster. This is Edward Young’s Exit Humanity.” – Opening Narration.
Among the subcategories and flavors of the Doomsday genre, there is a tiny subgroup known as the “Historical Apocalypse” or “Retro Apocalypse.” These stories are post-apocalyptic scenarios taking place in antiquated time periods; this isn’t to be confused with stuff like Night of the Living Dead or Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, which take place in a time period that was contemporary when they were released.
The most common type of retro apocalypse are the much maligned literary classic mash-ups such as Pride and Prejucide and Zombies, War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies, and Cthulhu vs. Zombies vs. The Boxcar Children. Aside from that, these type of stories generally take place during The Black Plague, The American Civil War, or World War 2.
The subject of today’s column, Exit Humanity, takes place a few years after the civil war. It’s told from the perspective of an unseen narrator (voiced by the world’s hardest working and most unappreciated actor: Brian Cox) who is reading the diary of his ancestor, Edward.
Edward recounts his first encounter with a zombie at the end of the war and then we jump ahead in time several years as he crouches in fear in the corner of his home, having killed his recently re-animated wife. Edward putters around his homestead for a bit, figuring out how the undead can be dealt with, and then sets out to find his missing son. As you can imagine, that goes rather poorly.
A bit later, Edward runs into a man named Isaac who is trying to get his sister back from a group of former Confederate soldiers led by a crazed General (Bill Mosely) who is kidnapping locals and letting zombies bite them in hopes of finding someone with an immunity so they can develop a cure. Edward is capture by these soldiers, but with Isaac’s help he manages to get out with Isaac’s sister Emma in tow. Unfortunately, Edward gets shot in their egress and they seek shelter with a reclusive medicine woman/possible witch named Eve (Dee Wallace.)
We find out the cause of the plague, General Williams comes back for revenge, and a bloody reckoning is had by Edward.
Opinions on this movie are pretty polar, it’s either a glacial bore or a surprisingly well-crafted and emotional horror western, but in reality it’s both. Exit Humanity is at times a breathtaking and very deep movie that tackles subjects like grief, death of the innocent, and the way a person deals with living after they’re been a professional murderer. Brian Cox’s ragged voice puts us into the head of our protagonist as he recounts his tale of loss, pain, and eventually redemption.
Edward has lost all hope and his outlook is bordering on nihilistic when we start out with him, when he’s done he’s resigned but still hopeful (the fact that his descendent is reading his words is kind of a stealth happy ending.) Mark Gibson is a bit wooden but he cuts an imposing figure and his eyes look weary and filled with hatred as the role dictates.
The story of Isaac and his sister Emma isn’t especially good or interesting. It’s not bad I suppose but neither character left much of a mark on me in any serious way. When Isaac is first introduced he’s weird and sarcastic and I liked him, but as the movie goes on he just kind of slides off our radar until he just becomes a dull sidekick to Edward.
Bill Moseley fares better as General Williams and if he were any other actor then I might be satisfied with the performance he gives, but Bill Moseley is a very capable character actor and his work feels toned down here. I’m not saying I want him to be animated and over-the-top but I know the man can give a good dramatic performance. Williams is a bit under-realized here as well so it’s not all Moseley’s fault, it still feels like a more mercenary role than some of his more famous characters.
Stephen McHattie is wasted, absolutely wasted in the character of the medic of Williams’ regiment. He’s the man trying to find a cure and while McHattie does mine a little pathos out of the man’s fear and conflicted nature regarding the experiments he’s doing, it feels like a bit part where there’s a “big” actor in a small role for no apparent reason. Think Ray Wise in Robocop.
Dee Wallace’s character isn’t great and neither is her performance. It would be a pacing problem to spend as much time with Eve as we do even if she were the greatest actress in the world, but Dee Wallace is droll and sounds bored. Her lines all sound fake and her character isn’t as captivating as the movie thinks it is.
The zombie make-up is some of the best I’ve seen for a low budget film and the creatures look suitably inhuman and disgusting. Gore isn’t especially prevalent, but what little there is is very realistic looking and suitably gruesome. Unfortunately the movie never finds much use for the creatures except in a couple of key scenes, they’re the backdrop for this story but they only seem to become important when the plot needs them to.
The camera work is beautiful and cinematographer Brendan Uegama uses the natural landscape to make every frame feel epic and deep, his use of natural lighting works to make the picture sharp but also somewhat hazy and eerie to give it that apocalyptic vibe. At least, that’s how the outdoor shots look. The indoor cinematography looks glossy and fake, very direct-to-DVD and comparatively very shoddy to the outdoor work.
While the narration and Edward’s story are pretty deep, it begins to feel like white noise after a while. I can only hear so many somber ruminations on the desolation of one’s soul before it becomes tedious. I understand this is meant to be a journal but the narration becomes a bit overwrought and I think that the story at large wouldn’t be adversely affected if it had been left out entirely.
I appreciate the story and what it’s going for but I often found my attention wandering. While this is a pretty fresh angle for a zombie movie, it’s fairly old hat as a western (I know not technically a Western, but you get the idea) and I have seen the non-zombie version of this handled much better numerous times. It’s such an interesting angle that I actually feel bad for not liking it more than I do, and there are some really great moments interspersed throughout, but Exit Humanity is often oppressively slow and in those slow moments the characters weren’t dynamic enough to hold my interest.
Exit Humanity is a good film with a lot of big ambitions (certainly more than bullshit like fellow Civil War zombie films like Grey Knight or The Supernaturals) but it’s not quite capable of realizing them. The make-up and costuming look great, special effects work, even the camera work is solid most of the time. But the acting leaves something to be desired, some of the camera work is distractingly shoddy looking, and the plot just doesn’t move along at a good enough pace to keep it captivating. In a lot of ways I still can’t decide whether I like or dislike this movie and I may never land on one side or the other, it’s both forgettable and not. It’s an interesting experiment if nothing else, but one that is, if not a failure, definitely not successful.
Exit Humanity is available on DVD and Amazon Instant.
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