The Humans (2021)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 2021. , . Screenplay by Stephen Karam, based on his play. Cinematography by . Produced by Stephen Karam, . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play is brought to the big screen by the author himself, who both adapts and directs this tale of suppressed family dynamics that find their emotional release in the threatening nature of their physical setting. and her boyfriend have just moved into a new apartment, a pre-war duplex in New York City’s Chinatown, that is cavernous and dank, empty of furniture and overwhelmed with shadows. Her family has come in from Scranton to celebrate Thanksgiving together, gathering around a makeshift table and drinking from paper cups while discussing favourite television shows, their medical issues and the latest gossip on people from back home.

, recreating her Tony-winning performance, sets things a bit off kilter by bringing a statue of the Virgin Mary as a housewarming gift, reminding her daughter of their Catholic devotion, while sister , in an understated and commanding performance, deals with a recent breakup and her personal health issues by frequently, unapologetically, leaving the room (the fact that Schumer can be so subtle while having colitis and running back and forth to the toilet might be one of the most shocking things about this film).

It’s the atmosphere that surrounds the family with a threatening menace that puts everything into context, there’s pounding coming from the neighbour upstairs, the building is old and decrepit and liquid leaks on the walls, bulbs burn out, endless empty rooms and hallways take on the characteristics of a haunted house, and the more they avoid being honest with each other and allow themselves to be distracted, the more disturbing the exterior pressure becomes.   Dad appears to be the one holding the most back, while the only honestly expression comes from the voice of grandmother , who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and spends most of the movie babbling.

The performances are flawless and Karam does a terrific job of making everything feel slightly off-base, often filming conversations from a distance or weaving in and out of an intimacy with the sound of voices to make sure the audience never feels perfectly comfortable. These methods show the writing off to great effect, though the film even at its best is evidence that theatre is not a comfortable bedfellow with cinema, at least not in the way that novels are. A play is a series of powerful moments and a lack of narrative cohesion can often work in its favour, while it’s rare that a movie can get away with denying us at least some kind of emotional resolution for all the bizarre disturbances that pile up; even the most daring of audiences might find themselves left out in the cold by the time they reach the end of this one.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2021

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