With Abraham Lincoln currently slaying vampires on cinema screens, it was the perfect week for the DVD roll out of writer/director John Geddes' Exit Humanity. A zombie outbreak tale that's set in the Tennessee countryside during the years that followed the American Civil War, this is a film that doesn't play like a gimmick-based creation, and packs a lot of pretty effective drama.
The film is retold partially through narration (by wonderful character actor Brian Cox of X-Men 2 and other great films), who reads from the illustrated journal of Edward Young (Mark Gibson), who returns home from the war to find his wife dead, his son missing, and whole lot of zombie nonsense going on around these parts. Though most viewers these days are going to have a pretty good understanding of what a zombie does, Exit Humanity still takes its time to build the threat, with Cox' narration backing Edward's experiments to figure out just what these creatures are capable of. The film gets a bit long-winded at times - Cox is always a welcome voice, but his voiceover covers an awful lot of the film.- but it also allows the film to exist in its own universe. A lot of zombie movies will simply reference zombie movies to explain their events, and it's refreshing to see one that builds its own infection. (Of course, if a movie set in the 1860s were to reference zombie movies, we'd also be talking about a science fiction film.)
The film starts as one man's journey - with Gibson, who's headlining a feature for the first time, carrying plenty of the film's weight well - but the outbreak is a lot bigger than he is. As he travels, he builds a network of support that includes another war vet (Adam Seybold), a woman (Jordan Hayes) with a secret (someone in every horror movie has one, don't they?), and an old-woman who's been exiled for being a witch (horror veteran Dee Wallace). He also is told of an unhinged General (Bill Moseley, doing psycho baddie once more and with his usual feeling), who has his own band of men who are intent on curing the zombie "disease" at any cost. The General's goal sounds worthy, but there's a moral battle to be played out here.
As the story works through the chapters of Young's journal, there are several changes in direction for the film. Some may balk at the ease with which some topics are introduced abruptly, considering the fact that things like immunity and the cause of the epidemic would generally be the focal point of other zombie based endeavors. Exit Humanity loses its way at times as it tries to weave a web with its characters, but the film runs a hefty (in horror terms) 113 minutes and doesn't seem like it's filled with sequences or ideas that could have been cut from the film. Exit Humanity appears to take a lot from the TV hit The Walking Dead in style and presentation, and I imagine Geddes had to struggle to fit all of his ideas into a much shorter time frame than a series offers.
While the film struggles to get all the details explained away, it shines when it lets the characters' emotions through. The narration is very attentive to Young's internal dilemmas while dealing with the predicament - including the title phrase, which represents his dwindling faith in mankind - and the gruff Gibson is physically commanding as the conflicted man of the film. The supporting cast is naturally highlighted by the folks we know from other horrors, with Moseley, Wallace, and even Pontypool star Stephen McHattie in a small role - all adding a lot to the process. The rest of the cast is comprised primarily of folks painted and dolled up as zombies, which show off some great and practical special effects and a solid dose of gore that never goes too far into "splatter for the sake of splatter" territory.
In tone, Exit Humanity reminded me a lot of one of my favorite recent horror films, Jim Mickle's Stake Land. Like that quasi-apocalyptic vampire film, Exit Humanity does everything in its power to balance the horrors of the dead on Earth and how their presence effects the few people left to deal with them. Geddes' and the rest of the gang are incredibly deliberate while pacing their film, which allows the cinematography (DP Brendan Uegama does an extraordinary job of using Canadian wilderness as the southern USA backwoods) and the musical score (a soaring addition to the film that peaks in the final moments) to shine.
With the technical aspects in tip-top shape, some good-looking animations sprinkled through the process, and Cox' peaceful narration all in place, Exit Humanity is a calming addition to the zombie scene. For once, the focus isn't on creating chaos for the viewer. Geddes and company instead set out to tell a dramatic tale with horror elements, and the manner with which they achieved their goal is the biggest thing I will take away from Exit Humanity. If you're tired of nu-metal and abrupt camera cuts in your zombie films, Exit Humanity could be exactly what you're looking for.