Watched during the 2021 Toronto Film Festival
A character without dialogue but deeply expressive, a huge poorly maintained New York apartment becomes the scene of a cataclysmic succession of family conflicts. On Thanksgiving night, Erik Blake reunites three generations of his family with their youngest daughter, inadvertently not knowing what brief confinement is likely to entail. As an essay on family life in Lower Manhattan, The Humans is a powerful drama that brings digital from producer A24 in its essence.
Amid the sounds of an old building, spacious and sparsely furnished, the protagonists experience the purest uneasiness of silence, cross conversations and dialogues full of painful and disturbing pauses. In family, everyone seems more unknown, familiarity slipping away all the time – except for little anecdotes that sometimes try to fill the void of ephemeral chemistry between parents and children.
And Stephen Karam makes the adaptation of his own play Humans a surprising analysis. Still taking us into the body language of his cast, the filmmaker adapts the text with precision, always leaving that feeling of being in front of an essay on human behavior. With a simple staging and a sharp script, he knows how to fill the void of dialogue with the photograph of an unattractive apartment he owns. Amidst mold, gutters and a grotesque bathroom, Beani Feldstein (Exceptional), Amy Schumer (Out of Order), Steven Yeun (Minari), Richard Jenkins (Spotlight: Secrets Revealed), Jayne Houdyshell (Lovely Women ) and June Squibb (The Good Doctor) are all this movie needs to keep us going until the very last seconds – with their dynamic and synchronized performances.
A poignant family drama, The Humans is a sensory experience that constantly gives us a sense of confinement. The structure of the apartment, with its tiny hallways and dark rooms, adds to the tension of the film and makes us absorb all the atmosphere that guides the characters. And what should be a comfortable family reunion at a newly acquired property turns into a grueling and heartbreaking night of laundry. Here, the breadth of physical space plays the opposite role, and the walls of each room seem to squeeze and stifle all thought and behavior.
Insightful in his direction, Karam explores urban photography that abuses simple yet powerful production design. Using artificial light as a tool of contrast, he makes all the elements in each room behave like centerpieces in building the aesthetic, the tension between the characters and obviously the suffocation that haunts both the protagonists and the public. And even if the film is a bit long, the exceptional hustle and bustle of the plot still keeps us going. And with a more theatrical twist, The Humans makes ordinary life in confinement something truly extraordinary and worthy of the A24 quality mark.
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