For all my criticisms of zombies and The Walking Dead last week, I still enjoy a good zombie movie every now and then. Actually I still enjoy bad zombie movies, like the laughably horrible Land of the Dead and its Martin Luther King Jr zombie or the countless C-list zombie movies that show up on Netflix every week. The trouble with watching all these terrible zombie movies of course, is that it has lowered my expectations to an almost immeasurable level when I start watching anything with zombies in it. Its like sitting in a broken hot tub that only keeps the water warm enough to keep it from turning to ice, you do it often enough and you forget that it was ever supposed to be a pleasant experience. I was sitting in that hot tub when I decided to watch Exit Humanity, I went in wanting nothing more than a few cheap laughs at the expense of a bad movie.
But then the water began to boil, and I remember what a hot tub was supposed to do.
I remembered what a zombie movie is supposed to do: it made me feel.
Exit, Humanity: A Storytelling Review
Set during the Civil War, Exit Humanity is one of those rare zombie movies that actually has a story to tell and tells it successfully. It’s a great story about tragedy and grief, acceptance and hope.
The first character you’ll meet watching this film is the Narrator. Now normally I hate narration because rather than being part of the story, they just sit there and read their lines like they’re reading off of a damn shopping list, like they’re too good to actually take part in the movie or show. Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Revenge, 21, Avatar, the list is as long as it is boring. Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule, like the narrations of Forrest Gump and Fight Club. The only exception I’ve ever run into is anything narrated by Morgan Freeman and that’s because he’s fucking Morgan Freeman and he could read a shopping list and still make it sound like an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. There are now two exceptions: Morgan Freeman and Brian Cox, who narrates Exit, Humanity.
Brian Cox’s narration is effective because his voice carries such emotional weight, what he is saying impacts us and draws us further into the story. His narration allows for our main character, Edward Young, to act alone for the first act of the movie without having to spout expositional dialogue to himself for the benefit of the audience. We can hear the pain and anguish in our narrator’s voice as we are introduced to Edward, screaming incoherently after being forced to kill his wife, now a zombie. And as good as Brian Cox is, it’s the performance of Mark Gibson who plays Edward Young, that really sells this movie. Never heard of him? Neither had I, and his IMDB page is practically empty, but holy balls can this guy act. I know I don’t usually get into acting because that’s not my field, I’m all about the story, but this guy deserves a mention (and an Oscar for that matter. You hear that, Academy? Give an Oscar to someone who deserves it for once!).
But let’s get right back to the story. After killing his wife our main character goes in search of his son. So it’s kind of like The Walking Dead in that respect, right? I mean it’s going to be a long zombie killing spree followed my a happy reunion with his son…
Yeah, that’s Edward’s son up there. Not even twenty minutes into the film and BAM zombies have already killed his entire family, and what’s even better is that he acts like a man that’s lost everything. So many zombie films have a hero that just shrugs off enormous tragedy, instead choosing to grab a shotgun and go zombie hunting rather than dwell on their grief. Edward comes close to putting a bullet into his own brain after cremating his son, but then he remembers a promise he made to his son, to take him to the one place where Edward found peace during the horrors of the Civil War. So Edward sets out on a journey to take his sons ashes to Ellis Falls and that’s where the real story begins, because while it’s as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one.
At first he continues to be hounded by tragedy. His horse, his last and in his own word, truest friend gets bitten by zombies. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge animal lover, especially of horses, but the way Edward sadly comforts the horse as the end draws near is really touching. Especially when it tastefully fades to black and leaves our hero to put his horse out of his misery in privacy.
Fortunately he meets a new friend on the road, though he isn’t very friendly at first. Isaac is a bit of an unstable individual, at first he seems like a total maniac since he stakes out an old village and fills it with zombie heads on spikes, and yet we find that Isaac is also a very complex and likeable character. He’s trying to rescue his sister from a band of ex-Confederate soldiers who are searching for the one person rumored to be immune to the zombie curse, who has been bitten and yet walked away alive. It’s his devotion to his sister’s safety and the growing friendship he develops with Edward that makes him such a worthwhile character because it nicely contrasts his somewhat gleeful attitude when it comes to killing zombies. Where as Edward kills zombies out of rage and a need to survive, Isaac seems to do it for enjoyment rather than just for the sake of survival. Unlike The Walking Dead, where everyone seems to hate everyone else and constantly bicker like a group of school children, some genuine friendships develop and that’s what makes this movie so much more involving than say the Dawn of the Dead remake or many others.
I don’t want to give too much more away because I’ve already ruined too much, and the rest really needs to be experienced, but let me tackle the core theme of the movie which I felt was really poignant and exceptionally apt for the material. Finding the will to survive and something to make life worth the living.
Life isn’t about avoiding pain, it’s about finding something worth living for despite the pain, because pain is inevitable in life. It’s part of the human condition. Yet that seems to be something that a lot of movies, non-zombie movies too, don’t seem to understand. Most movies aren’t about enduring hardship, they’re about escaping hardship, to get to a place where nothing bad ever happens and life is all sunshine and roses. I am huge optimist myself, but even I know that isn’t a realistic expectation because bad stuff happens to everyone for, for no other reason than that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like Edward Young.
He left his farm with nothing but the ashes of the son he shot in the head and a horse that ends up dead shortly afterward. He’s alone, grief stricken, angry and left with only a single reason to keep going, to fulfill a promise to a dead boy. That’s enough at first, he just needs that one reason to hang on, just one. As the story moves on he finds more and more to live for, his friend Isaac, Eve, the woman who heals a wound he sustains, and finally he even falls in love with Isaac’s sister whom they eventually rescue.
“It gets better than this, Edward, it has too.” She says to him.
Throughout the movie Edward is haunted by nightmares of his dead wife’s zombified face staring at him, growing more mutilated and disgusting with each successive dream, met with only a look of utter despair on Edward’s face. The final scene of the movie is incredibly poignant and leads us to a really good example of symmetry in storytelling, having the character come full circle from he started. The final scene he is once again dreaming, and approaching his wife and son who have their backs to him. I was expecting to find them just as zombified as ever, because all these zombie movies end with the message that life is shit and death by zombie is the only fate waiting for us. Instead, we get this:
A healthy and peaceful looking pair aren’t they? Edward now remembers them as they once were, when they were at their best and blissfully happy, the way they should be remembered. He is no longer lost to his grief, and he’s found acceptance. They couldn’t have picked a better way to end the movie, because it gives you a great sense of closure and resolution, and ends what is mostly a very black, dismal movie on a note of hope.
This isn’t a movie about zombies. They’re in the movie for sure, and they look damn good, but it’s not about them. It’s about holding on even when everything is turning to ash around you, it’s about finding someone to help ease the pain that will inevitably come during your life. It’s about healing, honoring those who have died by choosing to live a full and happy life. To accept loss and not be consumed by grief and anger.
It’s about people.
And that’s what makes it one of the best damn movies I’ve seen this year. I went into this film expecting to see The Crazies or Dawn of the Dead remake, a stupid little film good only for a few cheap thrills. What I got instead was the Schindler’s List of zombie movies. Seriously, if you have Netflix watch this movie right now.
What are you just sitting there for! I said right now!