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HUMANE_DAY13_SW_0214.jpg

‘Humane’ Review: The Next Cronenberg Takes a Stab at the Family Dynasty

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 26, 2024 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 26, 2024 |


HUMANE_DAY13_SW_0214.jpg

It’s not a secret I’m a fan of the Canadian clan of horror masters, the Cronenberg’s. Patriarch, David, known for his brand of sexy body horror was well complimented by his son, Brandon, whose bizarre philosophical takes on the deranged have a bloodier red tint. Next to join the family business is Caitlin Cronenberg whose first feature is more spooky satire than sexy gore fest.

Humane is led by a cast of Canadian heroes like Jay Baruchel, Enrico Colantoni, and Emily Hampshire. The ensemble is relegated to a single manor where patriarch, Charles York (Peter Gallager) informs his children, Jared (Baruchel), Rachel (Hampshire), Noah (Sebastian Chacon), and Ashley (Alanna Bale) that he and his wife have decided to “enlist.” In this slightly spun version of our world, to enlist is to volunteer to be euthanized in exchange for government money paid out to family members. The reasoning behind the jarring practice is that the environment has reached a critical breakdown necessitating a culling in the population. But unlike others that typically enlist, Charles is a man who spent years as a leading journalist leaving him a pristine reputation, insight into the state of the world, and a lot of money. It’s Charles’ integrity, so he believes, that leads him to wanting to volunteer for the program to atone for the selfish act of bearing children, children who are somewhat of a stain on the ailing planet.

At game time, Charles’ wife sneaks away, leaving the eccentric undertaker, Bob (Colantoni), to force one of the family members to act as a replacement corpse. So sets off a housebound battle royale where the York family must either amicably choose a sacrifice or violently select a victim. It’s a simple setup created from a thin metaphor that quickly pivots a story about ethics and climate change into a murder-dinner-party the likes of which we’ve seen in Ready or Not or The Invitation. But Cronenberg’s feature doesn’t seem as interested in the blood and mayhem of its would-be cohorts, it instead focusing on the quiet conversations and changing allegiances of imperfect people facing the possibility of their own death. It’s perhaps by stylistic choice, or perhaps by virtue of budget constraints that most of the movie’s murder-y action is quick and swift. A stabbing here, a brief wrestle there, and a lot of the rising actions made up of quiet hiding and complicated discussions that remove the proverbial masks of the faulty family.

What’s difficult about this death match isn’t only that the lack of action kills some tension, but also that there’s almost no one to root for. Sure, Noah is the adopted brother who has recently overcome personal problems so becomes the easy target, but even he isn’t the hero you’re begging to arise untouched. In lieu of that, there’s the villain in Bob who refuses to let up and seems to enjoy the taking life portion of his grim profession. Colantoni does a lot of heavy lifting to keep the movie interesting, his deadpan creepy deliveries and menacing aura grabbing focus as a ringleader malevolently and omnisciently gazing down on the chaos. It’s the fear of him as a presence that gives the war stakes, as the development of the siblings as money hungry enough to murder each other happens so quickly that it’s impossible to pick a pony.

The script from Michael Sparaga satirizes our world with a simple metaphor. Obvious hints like referring to climate issues as the “Asian Crisis,” and having rich kids as hyperbolic talking heads and shrewd business people choosing money over ethics make you certain this story is a reflection of us. Its strength is in its simplicity, but its weakness is it not springing from the premise into something more thrilling.

Though her first feature, this is far from Cronenberg’s first time on a movie set. She has a long list of credits as a stills photographer and a lustrous career as a photographer and director of music videos (she shot the viral album cover of Drake’s “Views,” for instance). Her visual style is present, especially in how she plays with light in a movie where the sun is a threat still craved by characters, and a conversation is had over an aesthetic meal.

Cronenberg’s freshman feature is a tale of abundance in the face of poverty that posits a not-so-distant twist on the bleak state of our world. Though difficult not to compare her to her namesake, what Caitlin has done differs from her father and brother by being more twisted thriller than radical horror. It’s a promising preview from a young filmmaker who seems at her best when leaning into her personal style.

Humane hits theaters April 26, 2024