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‘HUMANE’ Movie Review: A Potent Satire of a Planet on the Precipice

Shocking parables of cultural malaise have always been a part of the zeitgeist, but this is especially true now that everyone who isn’t living in a vault is talking about the recent “Fallout” TV series. So Caitlin Cronenberg‘s feature directorial debut couldn’t come at a better time, delivering a similarly satirical yet startling treatise that reflects our current unease.

Set months after a worldwide ecological collapse, Humane unfolds over the course of a single day. In an effort to curb overpopulation, global leaders have implemented extreme population control measures, including state-sponsored euthanasia. It is against this dystopian backdrop that a retired news anchor invites his adult children to dinner, with the intention of announcing his plan to enroll in the government’s euthanasia program. However, when the father’s (Peter Gallagher – Palm Springs, “Grace and Frankie”) announcement backfires disastrously, family tensions boil over into outright deadly chaos.

Humane immerses the viewer in an unsettling future that, while perhaps hyperbolic in its presentation, hits disturbingly close to home. We join the film when the nation has already fallen two-thirds of the way down the slippery slope to fascism: The Department of Civic Strategy wields sweeping powers; social media is under fire. Any disinformation that undermines enlistment is illegal, and the penalties are severe. Yet the real truth remains elusive when officials are dictating the narrative.

Retired newsman Charles York (Gallagher) is one of the many people who embraces the new initiative as an act of self-sacrifice, and gathers his children for a family dinner where he announces his decision to enlist in the state-sponsored initiative.

His children couldn’t be more different from each other, and this serves the film well when the situation gets out of hand. Baruchel and Hampshire play Jared and Rachel York, the two children of the family who appear to be the most content with their silver spoon lives – even though the former has serious problems with his own family, which we never get to see.

While seeming to agree with the government’s policies, the siblings clearly know more than they let on, especially Baruchel’s character, who is stunned that their father would have enlisted, knowing too well they would be exempt from the programme. These characters stand in stark contrast to Ashley York (Alanna Bale), the youngest daughter and aspiring actress, who shares a close bond with her adopted brother Noah (Sebastian Chacon). Noah is a recovering addict and grieving over a terrible accident brought about by his vices. These stark contrasts between the siblings of course all come to the fore when they are confronted with the decision as to who to sacrifice in order to comply with the rules of the euthanasia programme.

Despite the film’s focus on the lengths to which a family will go when faced with an agonizing life-or-death decision, the real heart of the film is Bob, masterfully played by Enrico Colantoni (“Station Eleven,” “Flashpoint”). As head of the Department of Citizen Strategy team tasked with carrying out the wishes of the York family’s father and ultimately ensuring that everything goes to Plan B after the initial plan backfires, Colantoni delivers an absolute masterclass in deadpan comedy, pulling off such a complex role with wry wit and amusing nonchalance. Some of his best moments come when he shares scenes with Rachel’s daughter, Mia (Sirena Gulamgus – “Chapelwaite”, Code 8: Part II), who is evacuated from the house and taken to the DCS van as minors are exempt from the euthanasia programme. Bob might have no problems trading barbs with the adults in the house, but Mia’s constant retorts somehow manage to land and get under his thick skin, providing some of the film’s best comedic exchanges and unexpectedly poignant moments.

Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the sibling rivalry escalates from petty squabbles to outright savagery, but what makes this film just as important as the likes of Battle Royale or The Purge before it is the fact that the violence is not presented in a sensationalized, exploitative manner, but rather as a terrifying but inevitable consequence of the characters’ dysfunction. By approaching this shocking violence in an unsuspicious way, and leavening it with the aforementioned humor and emotion, the film renders its commentary on society’s ills all the more powerful.

Humane is a phenomenal debut from Cronenberg. Both hugely entertaining and thought provoking, it continues a long tradition of shocking, revelatory parables that jolt audiences by holding a mirror to the ills of our world. Deftly balancing horror and humor – always a difficult feat to pull off – Cronenberg’s unique creative voice and confident style announces the arrival of a bold new directorial talent.


Humane will open exclusively in theaters on Friday, April 26th and will stream on Shudder starting July 26th.

Where to watch HUMANE

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