The Humans: Family, that terrifying institution…
The Humans is one of those films that you watch, it fascinates you and days later it continues to grow in your mind. It is not only enigmatic, very beautiful and unclassifiable but it is filmed with sublime finesse and a great passion for detail, for light and for that which we cannot see. This full-length feature film is by the Lebanese American playwright and librettist Stephen Karam and it is the adaptation of his own play, “The Humans” (2021), with which he was finalist for the Pulitzer prize and winner of the Tony award for Best Play.
A Thanksgiving family dinner full of lights and shadows…
The Humans starts with a family reunion like any other starring a really interesting cast: Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun and June Squibb. The sometimes claustrophobic setting is the new apartment of Brigid, one of the daughters, in the Chinatown district in New York. Initially, this festive evening takes place uneventfully…until superficial criticism and grudges begin to surface putting a strain on the atmosphere.
The pace of the film is lively and very spot on, as it allows us to become immersed in this story where “apparently” nothing is happening other than the typical gripes between parents and their children… Stephen Karam takes his time and that is key for us to get to know each member of the family and how they interact with the others. From that point on, the plot thickens, almost a drop at a time…
Family, that terrifying institution…
“Looks can be deceiving” as the saying says and, it couldn’t be more true in this case. Because, what initially seems to be in balance, begins to crack as the hours pass and the insignificant situations lead to serious rebukes, that reveal other dramas that were previously not known.
Let’s say that each of the six family members has a trauma and/or a secret that they don’t wish to reveal (at least on such a special evening), but in an attempt to empathize and/or because it’s unavoidable, they are forced to reveal it. And all this inner darkness mixed with a lack of empathy and social skills, unsolicited honesty and a lot of resentment… provoke the perfect storm.
“Karam illustrates an eloquent look at human nature and family, that is often forced to co-habit due to blood ties.”
We know that blood ties guarantee nothing beyond that which the Judaeo- Christian spiel attempts to unify in an almost magical way. Because relationships have to be worked on every day, without taking anything for granted or allowing them to dwindle, as in the case of the Blake family. They are all broken in different places and the only glue keeping it all from blowing up is the fact that they are family… An unstable argument that doesn’t change the direction of their inevitable drifting.
Is it a horror film?
No. Although, as we said at the beginning, the dreary atmosphere in the apartment with barely any furniture or decoration and in total gloom, contributes to our watching it in a hyper-vigilant state in order to be prepared for a possible fright… However, we can assure you that it is partly horror, psychological horror, due to the darkness in each of its members. Be it hate, rage, frustration, mistrust, envy… This entire mishmash is whatStephen Karam uses to frame his first film in the abstract genre, where the mystery of existential fears is revealed before the viewers, producing different meanings.
“In The Humans there is no curse, there aren’t any monsters or anything supernatural, but it is the inner shadows that produce the most fear and that turn ordinary situations into something voracious and repulsive.”
A house that “mutates” from the emotions of its inhabitants
Another premise that the director lays out is the capacity that human emotions, particularly “bad ones”, have when it comes to influencing and changing the physical reality of a space. Something that is illustrated with the sound of the plumbing, the lighting in the house, the mutability of certain stains on the walls, etc…In fact, you can begin to feel that the house is alive and that it changes along with the emotions of its dwellers.
“Each small detail becomes more revolting as the arguments get louder and crueler, and that is reflected in the house.”
The best part: how ordinary and normal the characters are, as they manage to introduce you straight into the story. Another of the film’s attributes is that it doesn’t get into lengthy explanations and leaves the final conclusions to us. We also want to remark on the great work on the music by Nico Muhly, the editing by Nick Houy (Emmy winner for his work on the HBO mini-series “The Night Of”) and the direction in photography by Lol Crawley, who creates a setting of unbreathable tension.
The worst part: We maybe wished that the director had dug a little deeper into the grotesque side of each of the intra- stories of this family. We would have loved to have known the ins and outs of each of them.
Available on Filmin.