Monday, November 3, 2014

On Your Mark, Get Set, Probably Die


As much as the humans hunting humans subgenre is a popular choice for genre film, it seems a little daunting to attempt when working with an indie budget. Let's see how newcomer Paul Hough handles the challenge.

Quick Plot: 80 people who happened to be on the same street corner one day find themselves inexplicably standing in line. Before they have time to ask names or Google map themselves, a voice that even the deaf characters can hear announces that they must compete in a race to the death. Actions such as stepping on grass or being lapped by other ‘runners’ will lead to, we learn, messy head implosion. No doctor’s note gets you off the hook.


It’s a simple enough premise that most genre fans are well-acquainted with from such works as Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, and The Long Walk. I’ve spoken at length about how such storylines are, pretty much my favorite thing ever (perhaps because I saw The Running Man in the theaters at the age of five, or just because I’m actually something of a very twisted human being). Naturally, the plot description of The Human Race was enough to make me put it at the top of my queue.


Boy am I glad I did. Written and directed over the course of four years by Paul Hough, The Human Race finds some fantastically innovative ways to tell a story we’ve all heard before. There are some simple decisions that render it notable--major characters are deaf and speak with sign language, while the star (Big Brother winner Eddie McGee) happens to be a war veteran with one leg and some mean crutch skills--proving so simply how easy it can be to instantly make your movie more interesting. 


It doesn't stop there. The film has plenty of fun with its structure, alternative character flashbacks with the race to keep the pace moving. There are a lot of genuine surprises with where some of the action and characters go, and most importantly, some strong attempts at bringing depth to some of their interactions. 


The Human Race isn't a perfect film. The budgetary restrictions are occasionally quite clear, and the brisk 90 minute running time almost seems too short to adequately capture such a large group of canon fodder. Some viewers with harsh standards might find qualms, but I was happily impressed with how Hough and his crew handled the story. It's involving, shocking, and filled with the kind of touches you want to see from new filmmakers. Also, it's about a race to the death. I’m always in for that.


High Points
It would be a shame to spoil one of the best twists (especially since it occurs within 10 minutes of the film's opening) so I'll just say that The Human Race is quite cheeky about character introductions


I've said it time and time again: movies are more interesting with diverse casts. It's something Stake Land's Jim Mickle seems to have learned, and it's great to see Paul Hough incorporate the young, the elderly, the Christian, the Muslim, the deaf, and so on


Low Points
Pity the DVD that doesn't come with subtitles, particularly when it's tough to keep a large cast's character names straight

Lessons Learned
Stay off the grass. Seriously.


Cardio, cardio, and cardio

Crutches have some pretty nifty use when you happen to be thrown into a cruel and unusual race to the death


Rent/Bury/Buy

I thoroughly enjoyed The Human Race and eagerly look forward to Mr. Hough's output. The DVD includes a dynamic commentary with several cast and crew (many of whom did double duty) and it's an enjoyable listen for any film fan with an interest in crafting a low budget genre picture. Those viewers with a mild allergy to low budget cinema might occasionally sneeze, but this is a strong little genre film that makes good on its ambitions. 

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