Eye For Film >> Movies >> Exit Humanity (2011) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anton Bitel
Although there were plenty of voodooed slaves going by the same name beforehand, it was not until 1968 that George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead would play midwife to the cinematic zombie as we know it today: vampirically hungry for human flesh and vulnerable only in the brainstem. Yet, that is not to say that this essentially modern species of the undead cannot be retrofitted into bygone ages. Andrew Currie's Fido (2006) hilariously reimagined an alternative 1950s, with zombies both domesticated and wild signifying the rot within a conservative, racist America – and now John Geddes' Exit Humanity sets its zombie outbreak in the aftermath of the American Civil War, where the walking dead incarnate the trauma of the war-ravaged and still divided nation that is emerging from the rubble (and in many ways resembles the sleepwalking polarisations of today's America).
"Several outbreaks of the dead returning to life have been reported within the US," states the opening text of Exit humanity, in sly allusion to the rampant proliferation of undead in our cinemas over the last decade. With the nation newly zombified (and the audience increasingly deadened), Exit Humanity seeks a solution for present problems in the past, looking to a journal of zombie survival - written by Unionist veteran Edward Young (Mark Gibson) in the 1870s, and now disinterred and narrated by his descendant Malcolm Young (voiced by Brian Cox) – that "may provide answers to the dark plague threatening mankind." As well as maintaining his diary even in the most extreme of weathers and circumstances, Edward is a keen illustrator, which enables writer/director Geddes to supplement his live action with stylishly 're-animated' cartoon versions of the Tennessee farmer's hand-drawn pictures without breaking the film's often conscpicuous low budget.
It is six years after the Civil War, and Edward has just lost everything he holds dear – his beloved wife Julia and son Adam, both killed by his own hand, and even his loyal horse - to the fast-spreading undead plague. Unable to go through with suicide, he sets off to take his son's ashes to Ellis Falls in fulfilment of an earlier promise. Falling in with Isaac (Adam Seybold), his sister Emma (Jordan Hayes) and exiled 'witch' Eve (Dee Wallace), Edward starts slowly reattaching himself to the world – but this new family comes under threat from a ruthless Confederate militia led by General Williams (Bill Moseley) who, still imagining that the South can rise again, hopes, with the help of the conflicted Medic Johnson (Stephen McHattie), to find a cure (at any human cost) and to reclaim Tennessee to his own vicious and outmoded political model.
As Williams and Edward face off across the divide of a river, all humanity hangs in the balance, in a timeless revolutionary clash where the undead seem to be mere genre extras, or metaphors for ideologies that, though obsolescent, will not simply lay down and die. Even Edward, lost in the wilderness and bereft of his life's meaning, likens himself explicitly to the zombies all around ("You can't kill a man who's already dead," he says, staring down the barrel of Isaac's gun), before finally finding a reason to live again – and even then, he defeats his foes in part by adopting a zombie guise and recruiting his own undead army.
The period setting, the sepia-toned colour coding, the privileging of hand-written text over digital media, the ample beards and handlebar moustaches – all these set Exit Humanity apart as a kind of pseudo proto-horror which, much like Alex Turner's Dead Birds (2004), Courtney Solomon's An American Haunting (2005), JT Petty's The Burrowers (2008) and Timur Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), pretends to originality by having its events unfold in an era before cinema even existed. Indeed, Exit Humanity goes further by including in its narrative, alongside Edward's journal, a second, Necronomicon-like tome which collects ancient zombie lore from across the globe, and implies a prehistory to Romero that can be traced back millennia. To an extent, that may be true in principle – but that hardly makes Exit Humanity seem less derivative in practice.
Geddes, who previously co-wrote and co-directed Scarce (2008), has here assembled an extraordinary cast (Cox, Wallace, Moseley, McHattie), but by feeding them only banal lines, and reducing their characters to bland symbols (with craggy faces), he squanders these veteran actors' presence. While the spareness and seriousness of the film are to be admired, and Gibson makes for a sympathetic protagonist, there is little here that we have not seen before even if it may have been set after, and even less that rivets the attention. Exit Humanity's attempt to rewrite history may bring a bit of fresh meat to the table, but it hardly adds up to a bright new future for the zombie genre.Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2012
If you like this, try:Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter