Those thinking that every imaginable scenario for a zombie film had been exhausted should think again, for Exit Humanity, though an inextricably uneven feat of filmmaking, at least gets a few points for originality. Set in the late 19th century after the end of the American Civil War, it feels in many ways like the more tasteful little brother of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, sending world history on a collision course with the fantastical.
Framed by a procedural “tell us a story” layout, Brian Cox narrates from a survival tome written by protagonist Edward Young (Mark Gibson), after a zombie breakout took place in the 1860s. With his wife dead, Young goes searching for his son, but when he discovers that he too has succumbed to the infection, Young is forced to do something that will change him forever.
Exit Humanity is, for all its flaws, surprisingly well-constructed for something one might readily assume would typically to go straight-to-video. Direction, cinematography, score and acting are generally solid, though Cox’s voiceover often feels intrusive, telling us Young’s every feeling and emotion. It would have been nice to have our lonely character stewing in his own silence more, but at least he is left to his own devices during some of the more emotionally intense moments. There is a quiet tenderness to these brief portions, chiefly when he empties his son’s ashes into a pot that he later plans to scatter at a waterfall.
Young’s plan is something of a lofty goal for a zombie film, a refreshing move, though one which audiences bargaining on something more typical of the genre will inevitably be disappointed by. They might find themselves a little more at home later on, however, as Young meets another human, Isaac (Adam Seybold), who wants to save his sister, Emma (Jordan Hayes), from a gang of rebel soldiers who have abandoned their own humanity in the search for a cure. It still keeps quiet, and zombie slayings are few and far between, but the tension between the principals proves more interesting than a solitary slog through the wasteland.
Director John Geddes has compartmentalised his story into “chapters” of a book, with each segment typically introducing us to a new character, be it a mysterious old woman with questionable motivations, Eve (Dee Wallace), or the despotic, desperate man leading the hunt for a cure, General Williams (Bill Moseley). The drama is further chunked by low-budget, simplistic – albeit well-stylised – animated portions, which in the end feel a bit rudimentary.
Even once a few sly plot twists abound, Geddes prefers to plod along rather than spring into action. Though we find out the source of the infection, which naturally generates some strong tension, Geddes favours airy silence and contemplation over confrontation, until a much-awaited, climactic standoff. Even in those final moments, though, it can’t help but stifle itself with another overbearing voiceover.
Exit Humanity is a real curiosity; it at once purports to be more thoughtful and artistic than its low-fi brethren, yet then eschews subtlety and meditation in favour of absurd, card-carrying voiceover narration. Though read with gusto by Cox, it dispassionately tells us how we should feel, rather than the film showing us by way of its actions. It’s unexpectedly lofty and well-produced, but overlong and not ado about enough.
Exit Humanity is on limited release from Friday.