American playwright Stephen Karam adapts his play for the cinema The Humans, winner of four Tony Awards. The film is available exclusively on the platform MUBI.
A family gathers for Thanksgiving. There is the senile grandmother who can no longer communicate, the slightly grumpy father and mother, the sick sister who does not accept her breakup and the young couple who have just moved in. Within this couple: she wants to be a music composer, he is the new kid in the family.
That’s it for humans. And then there is the apartment, the non-human, the seventh character in this huis-clos which subtly flirts with drama and horror. All of you meet in this empty New York apartment that the young couple has just bought.
Walls have ears
From the outside of the apartment, we will not see much. Dirty windows don’t show anything. However, Erik Blake (Richard Jenkins) stares at them insistently, looking wary. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun) don’t seem to notice what the father sees. The walls swollen by the infiltrations like veins at the Cronenbergpipe noises that sound like rumbling…
The camera dwells on these details, gradually creating an agonizing and supernatural atmosphere. Skip Lievsay’s sound effects accentuate this sinister impression. And then the tension drops, attention shifts to the conversations. So we think it’s just paranoia.
Between each conversation, everyone wanders alone in this empty apartment. The film is well paced between long light, funny or serious conversations and solitary and tense moments. To add to the tension, the father recounts a nightmare: a woman without eyes or mouth haunts his nights.
Is she there prowling the apartment or is she one of those figures across the way, behind the dirty windows? And then, there is this nod to the series of zombies evoked by the mother when the camera lingers on Steven Yeun (the interpreter of Glenn in The Walking Dead) who warms her hands in front of her virtual fireplace. Is this family reunion in this empty apartment a reunion after or before the apocalypse?
An American family
The introductions of family members are done with fluidity. Once the links between the characters have been established, small family tensions can appear. The apartment is located in the vicinity of the drama of September 11, which strongly displeases the father. The latter (who hates New York and its exorbitant prices) was there and often refers to the trauma that the event left him. The sisters and the mother tease each other about their diets and each other’s food.
And then there are the illnesses, the money, the unstable jobs, the expensive studies that Richard begins again. The dialogues, cut for the theater and well adapted, show with finesse the family relations between love and hate.
Couple, family, old age, health system, cost of living, all the issues of contemporary North Americans are thus addressed. ” Don’t you think it should cost less to live? », the father asks at one point. The whole point of the film is in this sentence which could go unnoticed, so much does it initially seem out of context. But the heart of the matter is there: what is a human life?
As for The Father last year, The Humans is one of those successful adaptations of plays by their creators. After a success at Broadway, a place as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 and four victories at the Tony Awards, the play is given a second life with this feature film version. A success for a beautiful cast and an interesting mix of genres that keeps you guessing until the last second.