I've said it time and time again: setting your genre film in the olden days will automatically make it more interesting. Aside from removing the annoyingly obligatory "No service!"shout-out, a pre-automobile driven society gives way to more tension, more limitations, and an environment even less fit to fight supernatural horrors than the one we all know.
In other words, I added the new Bloody Disgusting release Exit Humanity to my queue because it was a Civil War era zombie film. What could go wrong?
Quick Plot: Narrated by an always welcomed Brian Cox, Exit Humanity is assembled from the diary of Edwin Young (a solid Mark Gibson), a battle-scarred soldier who caught a glimpse of the undead while shooting the other side on the mountains of Tennessee. Six years later, he experiences new horrors when he returns from a hunting trip to find his wife and son zombified, as well as a good portion of the nearby community. Edwin embarks upon his own mission to research and exterminate the new population of flesh-eaters, eventually venturing out to spread his son's ashes at a peaceful waterfall that soothed him during the war.
Along the way, Edwin befriends Isaac, a fellow zombie hunter looking for his sister, who has been kidnapped by a rogue group of Confederates (led by genre stalwart Bill Mosely) using a tired medic (Pontypool's Stephen McHattie) to work on a cure. Edwin, Isaac, and his sister Emma escape to find solace in a local healer's home (played by Dee Wallace, and yes, the genre cred meter just burst).
Let's examine what we have so far:
-A fascinating and underused time period
-A superb cast of proven horror actors
Mixing these ingredients should yield a pretty delicious pie, right?
Written and directed by John Geddes, Exit Humanity is an ambitious film, one that clocks in at nearly 110 minutes and feels determined to make you feel each one. With Jeff Graville, Nate Kreiswirth, and Ben Nudds' soaring score and the sometimes pretentious narration, Exit Humanity is certainly aiming for epic status. But unlike something like Stakeland (which FELT big even on a small budget), the elements of this film never quite add up to something as grandiose as it wants to be. Gibson is a strong lead, but too much of the early scenes are devoted to Edwin screaming at God, while later montage-ish sequences that are supposed to show developing relationships never resonate with any true depth. Though we get some strong zombie chases here and there, the undead seem to randomly fade in and out as an actual threat. Part of what makes a historical-set horror film so effective is knowing that antiquated weaponry and technology might not be advanced enough to handle the threat. But in Exit Humanity, rarely do the shuffling hordes of extras even feel that dangerous.
That being said, Exit Humanity has to be admired for some of its more unique touches. Throughout the film, Geddes interjects expressionistic style animation, presumably as drawings from Edwin's journal. The artwork is quite striking, even if its more modern look never quite gels with the 19th century feel of the rest of the film.
Based on its premise and cast, I wanted to like Exit Humanity and by golly, I just, well, kind of didn't. The film looks quite good, with its woodsy setting never tipping its Confederate hat to reveal a low budget. Lots of credit does go to Geddes for taking his time to create something unique to the zombie genre without ever settling for easy gore. Unfortunately, the incredibly labored pacing just never clicked for me. The sentiment was there, but while the landscape and soundtrack worked so hard to establish Edwin's crew's misfortunes, I just never cared enough about them as individuals to stay involved with the molasses moving narrative.
Dude: it's the 1870s!
...a time when movies took themselves far too seriously
There ain’t no cure for monstrous behavior
As Cold Mountain already taught us, one could not find better healthcare in the 19th century than in the secluded forest cabin of a female hermit
I don't want to discourage anyone from checking out Exit Humanity. I give Geddes a lot of credit for tackling a tired genre with a fresh approach, and between the surprisingly strong production value, reliable cast, interesting artwork, and an extras-loaded DVD, the film offers quite a lot for horror fans with an appreciation for something new. Overall, it didn't quite work for my tastes, but this is a better than average straight-to-DVD horror movie that could certainly please plenty of viewers. I feel bad not being one.