Exit Humanity (2011)
I loved Westerns as a kid, old Westerns in particular, though never nearly as much as I loved the old horror and science fiction films, otherwise I’d be over at Anythingwestern.com with Scott’s cousin Buford “Mad Weasel” Shoyer. [How the hell did you know that’s my cousin’s name?? -- AHS]. As Clint Eastwood, no stranger to the genre himself, once said, Westerns and Jazz were America’s two original contributions to art. And while I never got into jazz, I was happy watching movies like RIO BRAVO, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, among others.
Now they say the Western is dead. They’re probably right, though whether it stays dead is another story (after all, they said the same thing about pirate movies). Perhaps the most successful in recent years are the ones which are set in the West but don’t act like Westerns, like Antonio Banderas’ ZORRO movies, or Jackie Chan’s SHANGHAI comedies. Less successful I think are the Western-horror/scifi hybrids; I liked WESTWORLD, but what can I say about WILD WILD WEST or COWBOYS AND ALIENS? And what about the upcoming cinematic abortion THE LONE RANGER, which is said to cost in the range of a quarter of a *billion* dollars to make? What, are they filming this Western on Mars? And did they defrost some executive from the 1950s to greenlight a Caucasian actor like Johnny Depp to play a Native American?
Anyway, enough of that, I’ve just eaten. John Geddes, co-director of SCARCE (along with Jesse T. Cook) and producer of MONSTER BRAWL, has brought us EXIT HUMANITY. Can it bring something new to both Westerns and zombies?
An opening caption reads: “Several Outbreaks of the dead returning to life have been reported within the United States. A catastrophe so unspeakable that the future of humanity is at stake. In the midst of the turmoil, an old journal has surfaced, detailing the personal account of the living dead from the 19th Century, a journal that may provide answers to this dark plague threatening mankind.”
Tennessee, 1865. Edward Young is a soldier in the Confederate Army, in the closing days of the Civil War. During one battle in the woods, he witnesses Union soldiers advancing towards him, resistant to the bullets shot into them, mindless but with an evident hunger for flesh.
Six years later, he has left the War behind him, and returned to his little house in the big woods, and his wife Julia and son Adam, to live his life as peacefully as he could again. The End – just kidding! This isn’t LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (though I’d love to see an episode where the Ingalls lay under siege from the undead).
But after a brief hunting trip, Edward comes back to find Julia dead and Adam missing. In an emotionally-wrenching sequence, we cut between Edward burying his wife, flashing back to his life before this awful day, and the pursuit of his son. We don’t get to see what had happened, or the aftermath, but it’s obvious that it isn’t anything pretty. And that it involves zombies.
Edward arms himself and sets out to find his son, and to learn more about, and to destroy, the zombies which are appearing in the woods in greater numbers (John Geddes manages to effectively capture how isolated one would be in the wilderness of the 19th century; the Tennessee locations were shot in Ontario, Canada). The dead prove to follow the expected rules: they’re slow, driven by latent instinct but unable to recognise former family members, feast only on warm human flesh, need to be killed with head shots, etc.
It’s here that we see the first of several animated sequences which try to bring to life the hand drawings we see in Edward’s journals. These were created by Montreal-based artist Snezhan Bodurov, and their inclusion in the movie, though striking and appreciated as an attempt to add something distinctive to the atmosphere of the piece, still sort of feels like an attempt to cover up sequences they didn’t have money for . (It doesn’t help that they also give me flashbacks to JONAH HEX, and its piss-poor attempts to hide deficiencies in its storytelling through animation).
On the other hand, I might be doing the movie an injustice, and should be more generous.
Eventually Edward finds Adam – and it’s not a happy reunion. One bullet and a funeral pyre later, and an anguished Edward somehow stops blowing his own brains out to set off alone once more, to take his son’s ashes to a distant waterfall, as he had once promised.
The storyline now moves into THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES territory, as Edward meets other people, some friendly, others not, and begins to collect himself a small new family as he moves ever onward.
This is a remarkable little film from Geddes. The 19th Century setting is not new to horror; others spring to mind, like GHOST BRIGADE, THE SUPERNATURALS, CONFEDERATE ZOMBIE MASSACRE, and THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD. But unlike those, EXIT HUMANITY makes a successful attempt at authenticity, capturing the way people talked, dressed, and treated each other at the time. It helps that they assembled a uniformly decent, eclectic cast, including newcomer Mark Gibson in the lead, Adam Seybold (THE CHAIR) as a tracker seeking his sister, Dee Wallace (E.T, THE HOWLING) as an old witch woman haunted by the sins of her past, Bill Moseley (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, HALLOWEEN) as a ruthless general seeking a source of the plague a la Rhodes in DAY OF THE DEAD, Stephen McHattie (IMMORTALS, 300, THE WATCHMEN) as the General’s weary medic, and even Brian Cox (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) as the narrator of Edward’s journals.
The script adds to the authenticity, and though some of the dialogue gets florid at times, there is always a gravitas to it; no asshole comic reliefs are to be found here, and there are some profound moments which elevate this beyond some cheap horror movie. The direction and music all contribute towards this.
Is there gore? Oh yes, though we could have had a lot more explicitness, what we do get is decent and CGI-free. The zombie makeup is expertly realised; my only complaint is that the numbers of actual zombies are small, though of course it’s meant to be set in the backwoods of 19th Century Tennessee, not downtown Atlanta in THE WALKING DEAD, so one can hardly blame the film for maintaining authenticity.
All in all EXIT HUMANITY is well worth a watch. It will disappoint die-hard fans looking for gut munching scenes, but it definitely delivers something different.
Director: John Geddes (also writer)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien