Title: Exit Humanity
Director: John Geddes
Starring:Mark Gibson, Adam Seybold, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, Brian Cox
Released: Out Now
In the midst of a modern zombie holocaust, an ancient diary is discovered. This centuries old journal details an earlier outbreak of the walking dead which occurred during the aftermath of the American Civil War. It chronicles one man's struggle to survive the post-war chaos and the rising dead.
It's often said that pop culture is currently over-saturated with vampires. But while the Twilight franchise and its paranormal romance brethren may be irritatingly high profile, the true plague of revenants is not the current wave of sexy bloodsuckers, but the hordes of zombies shambling towards your screens, or at least direct to video. I not sure whether to blame either Danny Boyle or Zack Snyder, but certainly since both 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead struck box office gold, there has been a veritable explosion of zombie titles.
Seriously if you go and take a look at the big ever-expanding list of zombie movies on Wikipedia, you'll see the full scale of the outbreak. There have been so many zombie flicks made in the 21st century that now it's not just a case that every other film on the list was made after the turn of the century, but that it's actually getting difficult to spot movies whose dates don't start with a '20'. And now, a decade after 28 Days Later the walking dead 'fad' shows no sign of, if you'll pardon the pun, dying off any time soon. It seems our appetite for zombies is rivalled only by their own hunger for our flesh.
However despite this seemingly never-ending stream of shambling gut munchers, often born under the bad signs of no brain and no budget, the zombie movie is currently actually in rather good health. For despite this current boom being spawned in derivative waters – Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was a remake of the seminal Romero classic and 28 Days Later is essentially another Romero film The Crazies filtered through a John Wyndham prism – the decent proportion of the more recent crop of zombie flicks seem to be shambling away from the usual repeat Romero formula, putting new spins on tired tropes. We've had zombies versus stoners (Bong of the Dead), zombies filtered through Cuban communist satire (Juan of the Dead) and even zombies meet future sport (Stag Night of The Dead), proving that you can teach an old corpse new tricks.
However John Geddes' Exit Humanity is perhaps the most ambitious experiment yet. Now from the synopsis you might be expecting this movie just to be the usual zombie scenario tricked out with a period setting. However Exit Humanity is far more than just a Romero apocalypse done by one of those historical battle recreation groups; it's an attempt to tell a zombie tale with real intelligence and gravitas, something rather rare in the current crop of shambling flesh-eaters, where new strains of zombie flick are often fertilized with a generous doses of comedy. Not that there is anything wrong with having fun with mobile flesh-eating corpses of course, but it is a pleasant change to have a zombie holocaust played dead straight.
And played straight it most certainly is: Exit Humanity is bleak and grim, feeling truly apocalyptic. But it's also very personal, depicting not only a war-torn society crumbling as the dead rise but also, as it is a series of diary entries, showing us one man's own world descending into chaos and horror. So while there is often brutality and inhumanity, there is also a dark poetry and a reflective sorrow in the saga. And with this serious and literate approach, you can understand how this low budget horror managed to secure the services of Hollywood heavyweight Brian Cox to provide the narration that runs throughout the movie.
For while Exit Humanity may have been made for a meagre three hundred thousand dollars, it looks and feels like a far higher budget production. There's none of the usual shortcoming of a low budget genre flick on display here. In addition to the voice of Cox, we have a very strong cast, with cult favourite Bill Moseley delivering a grand turn as an insane general, and newcomer Mark Gibson providing an amazing central performance as the film's lead. It's also beautifully shot, packed with haunting cinematography and a lavish attention to period, vividly bring the Civil War era to life – no small achievement considering how many low budget genre flicks fail to render contemporary times terribly convincingly! Additionally the movie forges its own highly distinct and memorable visual style, interweaving gorgeously rendered animated sequences, composed of parchment and pen and ink, as the film brings the diary entries to life.
It is a quality production to be sure, however it has to be said that Exit Humanity has somewhat divided critics. For while everyone agrees, and indeed applauds, the film for its intelligence, attention to detail, visual flair and excellent performances, more than a few have come away feeling that despite all these strengths, the film drags a little and flirts with boring the viewer.
Certainly Exit Humanity is a slow burning movie and I can understand why some have felt the pacing needed to be faster and tighter, and that the story would have benefited from the insertion of a little more action here and there. But in fairness, this isn't your usual zombie movie – if you are expecting the standard 'shoot 'em in the head' survival horror in a three act structure, you will come away thinking it should have been faster/had more happening.
However my impression is that writer/director Geddes wasn't aiming for just a Romero scenario in period costume. Exit Humanity is a movie with a more literary pace than the usual tennis match of talky bits then action moments, rather it's more akin to those reflective, almost philosophical Westerns such as The Outlaw Josey Wales or The Beguiled. And I don't think it's a coincidence that Exit Humanity inhabits the same Civil War era as those Eastwood classics; for like those celebrated Westerns, mood and moral questions rather than set pieces and explosions drive the narrative.
Indeed perhaps Exit Humanity is best approached as a Western, as this is not a tale of a world overrun with zombies but, to draw another comparison, like Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comics, it's the story of one man coming to terms with living in a world that is overrun with zombies. Indeed given the animated interludes and the style of pacing, I did wonder whether this story had begun life as a similar comic series.
Furthermore, with its journal structure and literary storytelling, I rather suspect Exit Humanity may well play better for some viewers if consumed in several sittings just as you would a good book. The movie is structured into chapters, so if you are concerned about the slow pacing, as you could easily watch it as a serial of your own devising.
However whether you choose to view it as a zombie Western or a Western with zombies, as a movie or as a mini series, Exit Humanity certainly deserves a look. Slow or not, there's more than enough to to enjoyed and admired here. And while it might not suit everyone's taste, such quality film-making on such a small budget deserved to be celebrated.