Over the last several months, A24 has released several high profile, critically-acclaimed horror movies. Ti West’s X, Lamb, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and most recently Men have all enjoyed various levels of success. But Blumhouse Productions continues to crank out more mainstream horror offerings. While we wait for Halloween Ends, Blumhouse has offered horror fans Dashcam and the Firestarter remake to tide us over. Its latest release, Unhuman, is a collaboration between their Blumhouse Television division and pay-television network Epix. Promising something of a mix between zombie action and teen melodrama, critics have been lukewarm on the results.
On the recommendation of their Parent Teacher Association, a high school teacher takes a mismatch collection of high school students on a field trip. But on route to their destination, the bus crashes in the woods far from their destination. Almost immediately a strange, sick-looking man attacks the bus, killing some and scattering the survivors. Now lost in the woods, the remaining students find themselves in a fight for survival.
Unhuman Boasts Some Fun Horror Action Alongside a Strained Effort to be ‘Hip’
At just under 90 minutes, Unhuman wastes little time getting started. And director Marcus Dunstan (The Collector, The Collection) rarely slows things down for long. If you enjoyed the Netflix movies The Babysitter and The Babysitter: Killer Queen, Unhuman taps into the same hip approach to horror. There’s a style-overload here defined by rapid editing, neon-drenched lighting, and an abundance of slow-motion. At this point, we’ve seen enough horror movies adopt this style that it’s no longer subversive. In fact, Dunstan often struggles to present coherent scenes with his hyperactive filming. Audiences may be more likely to have a headache than feel scared by the third act.
There’s a style-overload here defined by rapid editing, neon-drenched lighting, and an abundance of slow-motion.
This isn’t to say that Unhuman doesn’t have its moments. Early gore shocks and feels more at home with Dunstan’s film credentials. With screenwriting credits that include the Feast series and later Saw sequels, Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton know how to heap on the gore with a bit of a smirk. But the movie’s early playfulness gives way to an improbable twist that asks a lot from its audience. That twist, which requires flashbacks to provide exposition, gives way to more increasingly impossible things. Even fantasy movies have to exist in a universe where there are some rules or guidelines. Not only does Unhuman strain the audience’s goodwill it become tiresome and exhausting during its climax.
Unhuman Reminds Us of the Horrors of High School – Which We Already Knew
Maybe you didn’t know this but high school is awful. There’s a complete ecosystem populated by jocks, cheerleaders, geeks and nerds, and outsiders. But everyone has their own insecurities and if you just get to know them … and if this sounds like an ABC Afterschool Special, that’s by design. During the opening credits, one of the title cards proclaims Unhuman a ”Blumhouse Afterschool Special”. Without spoiling the twist, Melton and Dunston want to say something about high school social politics and how it scars those who can’t move forward. Consider Unhuman like a horror update on The Breakfast Club. Except the movie never earns the emotional catharsis it desperately wants. There just isn’t enough beneath the surface.
Except the movie never earns the emotional catharsis it desperately wants.
Regardless the young cast is more than capable often outstretching the source material. In particular, Brianne Tju (47 Meters Down: Uncaged, I Know What You Did Last Summer) shines as outsider ‘Ever’. No, Tju doesn’t look like someone on the fringes of high school cool. But she delivers a charismatic and engaging performance, which promises bigger things to come. And Drew Scheid (Halloween, Fear Street Part Two) adds to his horror credentials. Like Tju, Scheid has a natural likability that comes through on screen. Benjamin Wadsworth, Uriah Shelton (Freaky), and Ali Gallo all get standout moments as well.
Unhuman Is a Watchable, If Not Forgettable, Attempt at Hip Horror
Unhuman is the latest example of hip horror following in the footsteps of other ‘clever’ youth horror like The Babysitter, and its sequel, along with lesser known fare like You Might Be The Killer. It’s got an attractive young cast, hyperkinetic editing and lighting, ‘oh so cool’ title cards, and some high school politics. And for about an hour or so, Unhuman is watchable, inoffensive stuff if not forgettable. But then Dunston and Melton add an implausible twist, which they immediately double-down on. What follows is a dizzying climax – in all the wrong ways – and an attempt at emotional heft that’s unearned. If they can handle the early gore, younger audiences may have a bit more appreciation for this one.