“The Humans” breathes life into family-holiday-gone-wrong narrative
Directed by Stephen Karam who adapts his own 2016’s stage show, “The Humans” blurs the line between drama and horror in its slow-burn storytelling. It doesn’t lob you over the head with a cinematic grenade of good old jump scares. Instead, it has the luxury of starting with completely nothing while squeezing an intensifying experience of tensions. It gradually creates an atmospheric setting before it escalates into the stuff of real nightmares.
“The Human” takes us into what may look like an apartment with barely inhabitable conditions. Paint is peeling, and walls are cracking, giving us Roman Polansky’s 1965 “Repulsion” vibe. The ceiling light fixture is insecurely dangling with unbearable stomping noises from the neighbor upstairs. It has a total lack of light that sometimes flickers on and off.
In the apartment we meet the Blake family; Erik Blake (Richard Jenkins) and his wife Deirdre Blake (Jayne Houdyshell) alongside his dementia mother Momo (June Squibb). We later meet their two daughters Aimee (Amy Schumer) and Brigid (Beanie Feldstein). The latter has just moved into the apartment with her Asian boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun) – together playing hosts to the family Thanksgiving feast.
The Blake family remains connected to one-to-one intimacy and a tradition of gratitude for each other. Like Trey Edward Shults’ Thanksgiving-goes-awry “Krisha” (2016), the evening turns into unsettling Thanksgiving drama, navigating the family dynamics into demoralizing arguments and conflicts. As they opt-in small conversations and blend into each other, painful memories and trauma are revisited, and secrets and grudges are concealed. Family debates deteriorate into bitter taunts and near chaos. It is more angst than thanks.
“The Humans” is a really dramatic family saga. But the way Karam handles it turns it into an eerie film. The claustrophobic apartment hallways with cramped space, banging-pipe noises, and creepy dark closets give the impression that the Blakes are in a haunted house – progressively brimming with the sense of unthinkable danger.
While family gathering brings the magic of holidays, it may bring up unresolved traumas and end up in the progression of ongoing drama. That sounds like a pure everyday horror to me. “The Humans” is a testament to that truth.
“The Humans” is 108 minutes long and is rated R for some sexual material and language. It is on Showtime now.