Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #184
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 22 April 2009 (France)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: France, Switzerland, Luxembourg
Running Time: 90 minutes
Directors: Jacques-Olivier Molon, Pierre-Olivier Thevenin
Producers: Franck Ribière, Vérane Frédiani
Screenplay: Silvan Boris Schmid, Dominique Néraud, Frédérique Henri, Jean-Armand Bougrelle, Alberto Sciamma
Based on an original story by Silvan Boris Schmid, Dominique Néraud
Special Effects: Adrien Morot
Visual Effects: Stephane Bidault
Cinematography: Aleksander Kaufmann
Score: Gast Waltzing
Editing: Manuel De Sousa
Studios: La Fabrique 2, Iris Productions, Vega Film
Distributor: Overlook Entertainment
Stars: Sara Forestier, Lorànt Deutsch, Dominique Pinon, Manon Tournier, Élise Otzenberger, Philippe Nahon, Christian Kmiotek, Marc Olinger, Marie-Paule von Roesgen, Catherine Robert
Suggested Audio Candy
Fatboy Slim “Right Here Right Now”
Viva la France. It appears there is little this nation aren’t capable of when it comes to horror. The list of recent high points is growing more bloated by the year with À l’intérieur (Inside), Martyrs, Frontier(s), Ils (Them) and Haute Tension all flying the flag proudly. Then there are the lesser known delights such as Intruders and the glorious La Meute (The Pack) which slid under most radars unnoticed. Jacques-Olivier Molon & Pierre-Olivier Thevenin’s Humains belongs to the same family and, despite being relatively ambiguous with western audiences, it is very much worthy of ninety minutes of your time.
After a suitably teasing opener we receive our first inkling that this expedition will be one worth taking. Dominique Pinon (Alien Resurrection, Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) is a rather strong endorsement for quality, the dire When Evil Calls withstanding, and if there were an award for the greatest face in French cinema then Pinon would be a shoe-in for shortlisting. In Alien Resurrection, he stood alongside Ron Perlman’s also magnificent profile, and made the perfect Ernie to his Bert. Here his presence is appreciated and he doesn’t let us down for one second, supplying all the facial gymnastics we have become accustomed to from this French fancy.
The second indicator comes courtesy of Aleksander Kaufmann’s opulent cinematography. There are numerous sweeping aerial shots of lush Swiss Alps green land which suggest a grand scale masterpiece. Whilst not ever grasping for the apex, Humains consistently holds the attention and the filming locations are largely responsible for keeping us invested. The plot, too, is fairly grandiose and centers around an anthropology expedition to explore new-found evidence of the origins of the human race. Epic enough for you? Me too, my salivary glands were in full splurge and I was dribbling akin to a prolapsed pensioner by the time events began to further unfold.
Professor Schneider and his favored upstarts make the pilgrimage, picking up Gildas (Pinon) and his brood en route and it all goes Shelley Long as they run into a mountain slide and then career off the mountain trail and headlong into a gaping chasm. At this point in proceedings and, fueled by Humains’ impressive sleeve art, I fully expected shenanigans of The Descent variety and, in some respects, it delivers the goods. This includes a first act which poses all manner of harsh conundrums for the survivors as their greatest adversary is Mother Earth herself. It is here where Molon and Thevenin choose to go their own way as it doesn’t focus on restrictive caverns and instead use wide-open vistas as their playground.
Make no mistake, Humains is survival horror through to the bark and there are numerous parallels to Neil Marshall’s magnum opus but, if anything, it begins to resemble Rob Schmidt’s backwoods slasher Wrong Turn and Jeff Lieberman’s forgotten eighties triumph Just Before Dawn as the net begins to close in. The antagonists are no less than cavemen, anthropological non-discoveries whom have a bizarre pact with fellow inhabitants from the valley. On their own they aren’t particularly mortifying in appearance but the fact that they are preserving their own existence makes them all the more ominous.
The performances are uniformly top-notch, particularly Pinon’s discombobulated Gildas as expected and Sara Forestier’s Nadia but all players are excellent and, moreover, the lines they speak are thoughtful and occasionally hilarious, bringing a welcome streak of black comedy to proceedings. The grue is rather stingy, if truth be known, but the rambunctious final act does offer a number of reasonably grisly dispatches, each one handled expertly which is no less than you would expect from two film-makers who cut their teeth as make up artists for À l’intérieur.
Humains is as solid as the skull-cap of one of its nomadic homo sapiens and dense with tension and consternation. The fact that it pales against more fanciable French entries is, in no way, a negative reflection of its quality. I’d strongly urge you to seek this out post-haste if survival horror is your bag as it is slick and very well-made and played. Détour.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Not exactly barbaric but bloodshed is never particularly a requisite as Humains finds other ways to get its hooks into your pelt. When the grue is served there is some impressive injury detail but it’s never the focus. Dagnabbit. A little more gushing deep red could well have been the missing link here.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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