A disparate group of 80 people suddenly find themselves running a foot race featuring some very precise rules and their lives are forfeit if any of them are broken. Only one will survive but who…and why?
“If you are lapped twice, you die”.
“If you step off the path, you die”.
“If you touch the grass, you die”.
These are the rules that suddenly boom in the heads of 80 different people as they find themselves lifted from where they were standing and placed onto a non descript path which is marked off with sharp metallic arrows pointing in the direction they must follow. All of them hear the instructions told to them in their own voices, There are no loudspeakers giving them instructions. Slowly they all realize that they must start to run – and run quickly if they plan on living. In the ensuing confusion over their situation a woman is accidentally pushed onto the grass that is on either side of the path. The rest watch in horror as her head literally explodes in a most Cronenberg-ian fashion (If you remember “Scanners” (1981) then you know exactly what I mean), but who or what is behind all of this and for what purpose? Writer/Director Paul Hough took over four years to complete his film, “The Human Race” and although it falls prey to the usual foibles that ultra low budget films find themselves dealing with its still one of the most engrossing films I’ve ever seen and has “Cult Movie” written all over it.
Extremely reminiscent of films like “Battle Royale” (2000) & “The Hunger Games” (2012), “The Human Race” gives the whole idea of a group of people competing against each other to save their lives a new bend/twist that makes it stand out amongst the crowd. Mainly that there are no pre determined good guys or bad guys to cheer for or to boo against. The group chosen includes children, the elderly, the infirm, pregnant women, deaf (but no blind) people and even a man with an amputated left leg. The audience is just as confused as the participants in the race and the genius behind the script is that despite outward appearances, not everyone in the race is on the up & up. And as racers start to die people become more and more desperate to stay ahead of everyone else, going as far to ensure they stay ahead by murdering anyone too close behind them.
The one legged racer (Eddie) is a veteran of the war in the middle east and actor Eddie McGee (who is a real amputee) brings a real sense of vulnerability to the role. At first he’s just as confused as everyone else is but as the film progresses and everyone begins to understand the stakes he remains the one level headed, rational individual amongst them. By no means is he a great actor (some of his line readings are lackadaisical) but he’s earnest most for the time and comes off as trustworthy and genuine. Other featured racers include Eddie’s best friend, Justin (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) who works with deaf children, a pair of deaf joggers, a pair of young Chinese siblings and a reverend who believes that all of them are in purgatory and racing for a chance to get to heaven. The reverend is extremely wrong though and the great thing about “The Human Race” is Hough’s script and that there are no easy answers in it. No one can figure out exactly why they’re there until the very end when there’s only one left. Hough takes pains to give featured characters some back story and give the audience an idea of what makes them tick and the ability to weed out the good people from the bad ones.
Not that any of that really matters in the end though because the other great thing about the script is that it plays no favorites, no one is safe here so you shouldn’t get too attached to any one character for very long. Select characters get some screen time describing their lives prior to being transported to the race path but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re gonna be around for the finish. In an attempt to try to figure out exactly what’s happening to all of them Justin figures out a brilliantly simple way to postpone the race so that no one passes anyone else but just like in real life, there’s always the one person who manages to ruin it for everyone else out of their own selfishness. Hough’s script feels honest because we all know people that are just like the ones in the race – and we either like them or loathe them. It’s impossible not to put yourself into the situation the characters find themselves in as you watch “The Human Race” and therein lies the power of the script as it’s also a metaphor for life and death.
But as much as I enjoyed the film there are some issues I have to mention. Firstly since it’s an extremely low budget production the quality of the acting varies wildly. It runs the gamut from excellent to decent enough to piss poor and sadly some of the major characters fall prey to the piss poor actors and their flat uninspired delivery. Additionally the over reliance on CGI blood on a PBS budget becomes a major hindrance as the film progresses. Lots of heads get blown off of people’s shoulders and the film takes pains to make sure we see a lot of the carnage but the poorly animated arterial sprays really look as fake as a $3 dollar bill. Why the decision was made to rely on so much blood is a mystery, the film would’ve worked just fine with a lot less blood & guts. The end of the film is a surprise but it also relies heavily on CGI and while it fares better than all of the digitized blood it’s still a bit of a visual letdown, especially considering the possibilities it presents. But it still had me frothing at the mouth for a sequel!
There’s so much done right in “The Human Race” (Think about that title for a second & you might get an idea as to how it all ends) that it’s easy to give it a pass for its weaker elements. It’s a thoughtful, emotional, engrossing & intelligent movie that presents its audience with an interesting twist on a tried and true sub genre. The time & effort it takes to get us to relate to some of its characters and their situation is rare in a film of this type. Its ultra low budget does sting a bit but there’s no denying the film’s power, you will think about it afterwards and if you see it with a group it will foment what should be a stimulating discussion amongst yourselves. A true gem & one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s well worth the effort to seek it out.
“The Human Race” – 4 out of 5 shrouds.