OCTOBER 16, 2011
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENING)
I guess I just like somber horror movies. Like Stake Land, Exit Humanity spends a good chunk of its runtime on our characters moodily making their way through life as they constantly battle undead creatures (plus a few evil humans), wordlessly and grimly staring around at the fallen world around them, looking for that tiny glimmer of hope. Oh and the score is all strings, that always helps. It’s not a perfect film, but John Geddes solo debut (he co-directed an earlier film called Scarce) is the sort of zombie movie I wish I saw more often: character based, not too concerned with creative ways of killing the roamers, and… uh, in the Civil War.
OK that last one I don’t need to see too often, but I really dug the setting, set a few years after the war concluded (but still lingering in everyone’s mind, with Bill Moseley’s antagonist character seemingly having not gotten the memo that the South had fallen), during a cold Tennessee winter. I’ve been saying for years that not enough horror movies are set in the snow, and while it doesn’t really factor in the plot in any meaningful way, the melting snow and cold gray skies add immensely to the overall feeling of a “dead” world.
Also the setting allows for everyone to have a beard. There’s a weird stigma around beards in modern movies – they’re used to show characters who have let themselves go, or are villains. You never see a Bruce or Sly action movie where they have a nicely groomed beard (indeed, Bruce (playing himself) having a beard was a damn PLOT POINT in the otherwise forgettable What Just Happened?), and my buddy Joe is currently clean shaven because he was advised not to have one for his TV show. LAME. Beards are awesome, period. Between this and The Thing, maybe we can start restoring order.
Back on point, I also liked that the movie had a sort of tragic journey built into its narrative, something that you don’t often see in a zombie movie (in which our hero is usually just trying to escape to some promised safe area). Hero Mark Gibson loses his son early on, and thus commits to fulfilling the boy’s promise to be taken to a waterfall that Gibson had come across during the war and had turned into his metaphorical “happy place” (my words, not theirs). Along the way he encounters the rest of the cast, but it’s essentially a one man show for its first 30 minutes or so, which I also dug.
Unfortunately he has to “share the screen” with Brian Cox as an omnipresent narrator; a descendant of Young’s who is reading the journal that he made about the zombie outbreak. I never care much for narration in the middle of a movie anyway (bookends are fine), but his is painfully on the nose at times and frequently disruptive, as he seemingly butts in every 10 minutes with nonsense that didn’t really need to be said, as if Geddes didn’t trust the stuff he shot to convey the message. It’s almost as bad as in that one Twilight sequel (New Moon?) where they show Bella looking out the window as the seasons change but they also put on-screen depicting the months going by, as if Jack O’Lanterns and Christmas trees weren’t enough to clue us in. It’s 2 hour zombie movie with like 20 zombies – dumb people aren’t going to get this far into it! Just assume the folks watching it are smart enough to understand that our hero doesn’t want to kill a zombie unless they pose a direct threat to him, and then you don’t need the disembodied voice of Hannibal “Lecktor” to tell us as much.
I also wasn’t too crazy about the animated sequences that would often depict far more exciting action than the film offered (if you want a bunch of cool zombie killing bits, do not watch this movie). I don’t know if they were planned scenes that were deemed too complicated to film (one travels along with a bullet being fired from a gun and then going to slo-mo to see the zombie’s reflection in its metal surface before impacting its head), or just a way to break up the movie some, but either way, as with the narration, they are used far too often and aren’t really necessary. The animation itself is great, but it seems like stuff best used for a prologue or to recreate key scenes from the film during the end credits (not unlike Fright Night 3D), not as frequent breaks in the narrative.
One animated bit that I did love, however, was an explanation of other zombie outbreaks over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a zombie movie where the problem was addressed as a recurring thing, like a virus or plague that was wiped out and somehow came back. I liked it because of something that I brought up a while ago, that I was sick of zombie movies where the heroes don’t know how to kill zombies, because at this point they have been a big enough part of culture that the average Joe should know (like vampires – everyone knows crosses and garlic, they don’t need to figure it out in the movie). So this sort of thing helps my case – this is a world where zombies are not only threatening humanity now, but have in the past and will again in the future (that’s where Cox comes in). Love it!
Some digital blood aside (boo-urns!), the movie was technically flawless, and provided some wonderful scope imagery (the rare shots of direct orange sunlight were particularly wonderful and well placed). Acting was great across the board as well, though Gibson’s pained howls early on were a bit Tom Jane in The Mist-y (read: almost laughable). Moseley in particular was quite good, saving his few angry outbursts for when they’d count the most and playing it straight otherwise. Dee Wallace also has a nice turn as a local suspected witch who cures one of our heroes’ wounds, though they stay with her a bit too long – I think I would have liked the movie even more if it was more like an "Odyssey" style journey (or Cold Mountain, to be more exact), with Gibson meeting folks along the way as he heads toward his destination; I almost forgot about the ashes subplot for a while because it seemed he did too.
Still, apart from the narration, the other issues were minor and didn’t detract from the movie as a whole, and with so many zombie movies of late leaning toward more high concept ideas (zombies at a prom! Zombies that sing!), it was nice to see one that take them seriously again, and since Romero wasn’t that successful with his attempt at a zombie western, it was good to see that it could be done well with the right resources and talent behind it.
What say you?