Exit Humanity (2011)
Writer/Director: John Geddes
Exit Humanity is Canadian director John Geddes' second feature film and after watching it, I am very interested in going back and seeing his first film and can't wait for his next, because this one is a winner from start to finish, although I have to admit that a few minutes trimmed here and there wouldn't have hurt it.
This is one of those films I was talking about yesterday; one that takes the zombie genre and uses it as a backdrop to tell a different kind of story. Set in the days just following the American Civil War, we follow Edward Young as he deals with the living dead, the loss of his family, and the fragmenting of his reality. Geddes' script is clearly inspired by the western settings and measured storytelling of seventies films like Jeremiah Johnson or The Outlaw Josie Wales and he is in no hurry to rush us from scene to scene.
It's a confident and rewarding approach to low-budget horror filmmaking that really helps this film to stand out from the crowd. Made for $300,000, shot on the RED digital video camera with lots of daytime shoots, and utilizing local Civil War reenactors, the film has a big-budget feel. The Canadian scenery is virtually indistinguishable from the Tennessee of the story and the cinematography is never less than gorgeous.
$300,000 is a good chunk of money for a low-budget film and Geddes put it to good use on the equipment and the talent. Bill Moseley plays a crazed Confederate General obsessed with finding a cure for the zombie plague that is spreading through the countryside, and Dee Wallace makes an appearance as a healer/witch living alone in the woods. There is also a brief appearance by Stephen McHattie, and living legend Brian Cox does the voice-over narration.
For fans of another Canadian zombie classic, Pontypool, there's the added bonus of that film and novel's writer, Tony Burgess, showing up as a corpse in one scene. Burgess is writing Geddes' next film, Hellmouth, and Pontypool's director Bruce McDonald and star McHattie, as well as Exit Humanity's lead Mark Gibson, will all be performing. So, even if you have no reason to have an interest in this film, you should at least be interested in Geddes' next.
This is Gibson's first lead role and Geddes puts a lot of the weight of the film on his shoulders. Luckily he is more than capable of handling the pressure. Wisely, Geddes takes some of the acting burden from him by focusing a lot of the early storytelling on the Brian Cox narration, which, as one might expect, is superb. Without the added layer of dialogue, Gibson is given the opportunity to physically inhabit his character in long sequences where he only has to interact with his environment and emote without words.
Most films would benefit from Brian Cox doing a voice-over and leaving the acting to a purely visceral level. But don't get me wrong. That's not easy either, and Gibson is fearless, holding nothing back whether he's enjoying life with his wife and son or wailing over their bodies. It also doesn't hurt that Cox's narration is well-written; readings from the journal of Edward Young as he documents his battles against the walking dead and discovers the source and cure of the plague.
I'm not going to discuss the plot in much detail because this is a film plays around with your expectations and doesn't find itself limited by the usual zombie film clichés. There are some scattered here and there, of course — it's almost impossible not to touch on them these days — but overall this is a fresh take, mixing elements of westerns (and a touch of witchcraft) with living dead tropes without succumbing to the blatant clichés of either.
If you're easily bored, or looking for an action-packed bloodbath, this isn't the film for you. But if you want a solidly written, beautifully filmed, and realistically acted film that looks at loss, madness, and redemption using zombies and a post-Civil War setting, then this is the film for you. Hell, even if that's not what you're looking for, this one is worth your time.
For more of Paul's Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, check out the previous entries:
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.