Humane Tears a Family Apart from the Inside

Alanna Bale, Sirena Gulamgaus, Peter Gallagher, Uni Park, Emily Hampshire, and Jay Baruchel in Caitlin Cronenberg's HUMANE. Photo courtesy of Steve Wilkie. An IFC Films & Shudder Release.

In the horror world, the Cronenberg name carries weight. David Cronenberg has been the godfather of body horror for about four decades, and in recent years, his son Brandon has proven himself to be one of the most exciting filmmakers in the genre today. They’ve created a veritable family dynasty. When news broke that David’s daughter Caitlin would be joining the family business with a movie called Humane, fans took notice. Even apart from the story’s super intriguing premise, Caitlin’s last name alone had us champing at the bit to see the film, and now that I’ve had a chance to check it out myself, I’m happy to report that she did her family proud.

Humane was directed by Caitlin Cronenberg, and it stars Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Sebastian Chacon, Alanna Bale, Sirena Gulamgaus, Uni Park, Enrico Colantoni, and Peter Gallagher. In Humane, the climate crisis has gotten so bad that world leaders have taken drastic steps to reduce our species’ carbon footprint. They’re trying to reduce their populations, and to that end, the United States has created a voluntary euthanasia program.

People can “enlist” and give their lives to help save the world, and one day, Charles York and his wife Dawn decide to do just that. To break the news to his children–Jared, Noah, Rachel, and Ashley–he invites them all to his house for a special dinner, but when the time finally comes for him and his wife to make the ultimate sacrifice, things go awry. Dawn gets cold feet and runs away, and that leaves the younger Yorks with a dilemma. The government wants two bodies, and they have to decide which one of them it’s going to be.

People standing and talking
Jay Baruchel, Peter Gallagher, Alanna Bale, and Enrico Colantoni in Caitlin Cronenberg’s HUMANE. Photo courtesy of Steve Wilkie. An IFC Films & Shudder Release.

As I said before, that’s already a super intriguing premise, but a great premise isn’t enough. The execution has to be just as good, and thankfully, Humane nails it. To begin, the characters in this film are all fantastic, and each one of them is played just about perfectly. In particular, the movie does a great job of making Charles’ kids feel like unique individuals rather than just generic siblings.

Jared is the hypocritical government apologist, Noah is the recovering addict who’s trying his best to get his life back together, Ashley is the struggling actress who dreams of being famous, and Rachel is the uptight businesswoman who only seems to care about herself. Those distinct profiles add an extra layer of realism to Humane, so you’ll love watching these characters even when there’s nothing particularly horrific happening on screen.

Next, we have to talk about the horror. Humane has a good amount of blood, but unlike most films helmed by a Cronenberg, the gore isn’t the focus here. The way I see it, this movie’s primary weapon is its characters’ utter lack of concern for human life. From the very first time you hear about the government’s euthanasia program, the idea is absolutely sickening, and things only get worse from there.

The government agents who administer the euthanasia drug and demand a second body display a cold-heartedness that would make Michael Myers proud, and even worse when the York siblings have to decide which of them will be the second victim, they get in on the horror too. Their relationships break down in front of your very eyes, and when that happens, you can almost see the humanity leaving their souls.

People looking scared
Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, and Alanna Bale in Caitlin Cronenberg’s HUMANE. Photo courtesy of Steve Wilkie. An IFC Films and Shudder Release.

It’s emotional horror of the highest order, but that’s not the only trick up this film’s sleeve. Caitlin Cronenberg also displays a real knack for creating tension and suspense, so when things start to get dicey, you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time. Then, when the characters break the tension by bursting into action, the movie maintains that same quality level, just in a different way. It’s a genuine tour de force of genre filmmaking. Humane is hands down one of the most promising directorial debuts I’ve seen since Get Out.

Last but not least, I have to say a few words about the message of Humane. Much like David Cronenberg’s movies, this one is a bit tough to pin down in that respect. The film has numerous moments that call to mind various social or political issues, like anti-Asian racism, for-profit prisons, and economic disparities, but they’re not the main point of the story.

Instead, Humane seems mainly concerned with climate change and the value of human life, and if you’ve read my work before, it should come as no surprise that I was primarily struck by that second meaning. As I said earlier, the lack of concern these characters show for human life is pretty appalling, and that in turn highlights an important truth about human dignity: it’s never okay to take an innocent person’s life, no matter how good our intentions may be.

It’s a great message that way too many people in our world today desperately need to hear, and it’s the icing on the cake of this fantastic directorial debut. Apart from a few nitpicks here and there, Humane is nearly perfect. It isn’t just one of the best horror movies I’ve seen all year, it’s one of the year’s best in any genre. If you get a chance to check it out, I highly recommend that you give it a watch. You’ll be glad you did.

Humane is set to hit select theaters on April 26 courtesy of IFC Films, and it will become available to stream on Shudder on July 26.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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