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"THE HUMANS"
(2021) (Beanie Feldstein, Richard Jenkins) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Horror: A family gathers for Thanksgiving with tensions and the apartment's weird vibes affecting everyone.
PLOT:

It's Thanksgiving and the Blake family has gathered at the Chinatown apartment where daughter Brigid (BEANIE FELDSTEIN) has recently moved with her boyfriend, Richard (STEVEN YEUN). Among those present are Brigid's parents, Erik (RICHARD JENKINS) and Deirdre (JAYNE HOUDYSHELL) who are disappointed that their girls have left them and their religion in Scranton; their other daughter Aimee (AMY SCHUMER) who's recently lost both her girlfriend and job while dealing with colitis; and Richard's mother, Momo (JUNE SQUIBB), who's suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

With loud occasional thumping from somewhere above, other odd noises, and weird stains and other wall aberrations, and lights that keep burning out, Richard is both unnerved and horrified by the condition of the place. But as Brigid and Richard try to get the Thanksgiving meal ready to serve, it's the family dynamics that prove to be the most unsettling aspect of the evening.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Not surprisingly, when it comes to movies about or set around Thanksgiving, the family get-together is the go-to setup for the story and its setting. And with such gatherings, family drama of one form or another is usually the result, which can leave viewers either happy to learn it's not just their unit that's screwed up, or not wanting a reinforcing reminder of just that.

And that's because such family assemblies can sometimes be horrific or even scary in terms of what's said and done. Writer/director Stephen Karam is certainly aware of that and creates an unmistakable horror aura for his film "The Humans" that's based on his own award-winning one-act play of the same name.

The film begins, appropriately enough, in the closed-in courtyard of an old Chinatown apartment building, looking up toward the sky, as if trapped in some sort of labyrinth. And for the next 108 or so minutes, that's how some of our six characters find themselves as they gather for a Thanksgiving meal. The apartment is being rented by aspiring musician Brigid Blake (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun) and it's the type of place that looks as if it's absorbed its previous tenants' drama like some sort of poison that's left it looking sick and diseased.

The paint on the walls is raised at points like boils, there are ugly stains on the ceiling, and gross leaks below the bathroom. Oh, and lots of odd sounds, some that rumble and others that suddenly erupt in loud banging and thumping as if, you know, the place might just be haunted.

None of that's lost on Brigid's dad, Erik (the always great Richard Jenkins), who eyes all the physical defects as if they might somehow be contagious and reacts to the abrupt sounds like a kid in an amusement park horror house, albeit without the giddy giggles that usually follow such scares. He's there with his wife, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), and his mother, Momo (June Squibb), all from Scranton, while Brigid's sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer), has come up from Philly.

As things literally and metaphorically go bump in the night, the family deals with their various interpersonal issues, with Karam giving the film so much of a horror vibe that it keeps viewers on their toes (and the edges of their seats) and as unsettled as the characters they're watching.

The point, of course, is that humans can be monsters, and that's driven home - perhaps a bit too obviously -- when Richard brings up that one of his favorite stories growing up was where monsters were afraid of humans because, you know, of what they're capable of doing and saying to each other.

Beyond that and perhaps an over-reliance on jump scares, some viewers might not appreciate the eventual discovery that there's no concrete explanation about what's happening in the place, but I liked that nebulous quality as it allows us to come to our own conclusions. And that includes how to deal with family members and their views of each other, no matter how horrific they might be. "The Humans" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 21, 2021 / Posted November 24, 2021


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