If there is any one thing sorely lacking in modern horror genre cinema as a whole, it is ambition. With a few notable examples that pop up each year, most horror films in general– and zombie films in particular– are happy to keep grinding away at the same story beats, with the same few characters, over and over again. When a truly ambitious horror film does come along, it’s natural for the hardcore genre fan to latch onto it like it’s a life preserver keeping them from drowning in an ocean of samey direct-to-disc horror exercises. Exit Humanity comes subtitled “A Zombie Saga,” and that title hints at the scope of the film. Like Jim Mickle’s similarly epic Stake Land, Exit Humanity puts its characters on a long, hard road, trying to survive in a decidedly hostile environment. However, Exit Humanity is arguably even more ambitious than Stake Land in that it does not take place in an apocalyptic future, but a very different time: the United States following the Civil War.
Exit Humanity opens with a prologue explaining that near the end of the Civil War, the dead began returning to life and roaming the country. This put an end to the conflict as everyone had to fend for themselves against the zombie hordes. Years after the war, Edward Young (Mark Gibson) returns home from hunting one day to find his wife a zombie and his young son missing. He puts his wife down and buries her, and then sets out to find his son, although given the situation and era it is clear the boy’s chances of survival are slim. Indeed, Edward is beset at every turn by the walking dead, wandering in wide open fields and lurking in the forests. The young country is beautiful, but dangerous, and there are some folks out there who are not yet done fighting the war.
Edward meets a variety of characters on his trek: Isaac (Adam Seybold), a cocksure former soldier, Isaac’s sister Emma (Jordan Hayes), and the mysterious witch Eve (Dee Wallace) all seem to be on Edward’s side, although it is difficult for him to determine anyone’s character in these strange times. In addition to the walking dead, Edward crosses paths with a potentially even more deadly threat, a rogue army unit run by General Williams (Bill Mosely), who thinks the war is still on. Along with his brutal enforcers and drunken medic Johnson (Stephen McHattie), Williams roams the countryside kidnapping people and putting Johnson to work finding a cure for the zombie plague. As in many zombie films, these men are far more aggressive and animal than the zombies that seemingly pose the biggest threat to Edward and his cohorts.
Exit Humanity is a great example of how to make an epic film on a small budget. The cinematography is fantastic– like Stake Land, it’s obviously indebted to Terence Malick– and the tone is appropriately somber. In fact, the tone of Exit Humanity may be too somber. The film treats its subject with complete seriousness, as much in the zombie scenes as in the Civil War prologue. The relentlessly downbeat action makes Exit Humanity somewhat difficult to engage with, which is unfortunate as technically it is a strong production. Gorgeous cinematography, an effective score, excellent makeup and effects, and interesting hand-drawn animation all come together to make Exit Humanity one of the most handsomely mounted zombie films to come along in some time. The film’s action picks up a bit in its second half, but for the first half the piles of misery visited on Edward become exhausting. Despite this, Exit Humanity is worth a watch on the strength of its unique concept alone, and its excellent production values certainly don’t hurt.
Bloody Disgusting and The Collective release Exit Humanity on DVD on 19 June 2012. Special features include two commentary tracks and a “making of” featurette.