starring Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Amy Schumer
screenplay by Stephen Karam, based on his play
directed by Stephen Karam
starring Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Sierra Maltby
written by Chris Sparling
directed by Phillip Noyce
by Bill Chambers Richard Jenkins leads an all-star cast as the nightmare-plagued patriarch of the Blake family, who have gathered for Thanksgiving at the new home of daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun): a duplex in the middle of Chinatown that's falling apart, Polanski-style, in symbiotic echo with the dysfunctional Blakes. Erik (Jenkins) and his wife Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) have been keeping something from their children that's bound to sting, while their other daughter, Aimee (a dynamite Amy Schumer, which is the film's biggest surprise), is intent on protecting the dinner table from the life-altering medical prognosis she's received. Then there's Erik's mother, Momo (June Squibb), who sits in a wheelchair muttering in a secret language between brief periods of lucidity. It's a long day's journey into night in which truths are laid bare but none of the characters experience catharsis, since all this TMI does is create space between them--and more room for their personal demons. The Humans is pretty on-brand for distributor A24 in that it dabbles in the syntax of genre, but how scary you find it will probably depend on how much you relate to Erik, a dinosaur who can see the asteroid coming for him now that nobody really depends on him anymore.
Tempting to say it's elevated horror so lofty you'll need a telescope--which is almost literally true of The Humans itself. The picture was adapted by writer-director Stephen Karam from his one-act play and never lets you forget it, not because Karam doesn't go out of his way to "open it up" (in fact, a brief glimpse of the city streets about two-thirds of the way through is gratuitous and deflating), but because the camera positions and lighting combine to create a theatrical distance from the actors. If there's a ghost in The Humans (sounds like a Pixar movie, doesn't it?), it belongs to the stage curtains haunting the margins of practically every frame. Still, the haste with which Momo becomes furniture induces a shudder of recognition, as does the targeting of youngest child Brigid for unsolicited advice on her life, her career, her house, etc., mainly by Eric. (It's not just a case of infantilizing the baby of the family, it's that in times of mortal panic, we look towards our best chance at a legacy.) Karam knows from, well, human behaviour; a line like "When you share dreams with my family, I become a crazy person" (spoken by Brigid to Richard) is startlingly well-observed. But the form the movie takes feels overdetermined, and the Ladies Man-esque closing pullback revealing both floors of the set in the same frame is even more maddening: you could've been doing this the entire time?!
In his noticeably gloomy intro, Karam said the pandemic of course impacted the production and, in a strange way, came to mirror it, and indeed The Humans gives off the not-inappropriate vibe of one of those atomic-terror movies where people are stranded together on an island after an apocalypse. By contrast, Lakewood was actually designed to be a pandemic-friendly shoot, but those compromises are so transparent that they never burrow into the subtext and instead put the film at constant risk of being unintentionally hilarious. Naomi Watts is Amy, a widowed mother of two who decides to take a personal day. After seeing her young daughter (Sierra Maltby) off to school, she can't get her teenage son, Noah (Colton Gobbo), out of bed, so she decides to go for a run in the woods. Fielding phone calls along the way, Amy receives word of an active shooter at her son's school, then discovers that Noah did make it to class that day after all, then learns that Nick is a prime suspect. And she digests each piece of news without breaking stride. Directed with anonymous gloss by the on-again/off-again Phillip Noyce, Lakewood is many things--a radio drama, a one-woman show, a marathon--but primarily it's an instant camp classic that seals its bona fides when Amy goes the full Columbo and calls the shooter to reason with him as the mother of a very special boy who just lost his dad. Lakewood sees a major director and star simplifying production without bringing a commensurate humility to the screenplay, resulting in something that is fundamentally absurd. I can't say I was bored, though. Run, Naomi, run! THE HUMANS - PROGRAMME: SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS; LAKEWOOD - PROGRAMME: GALAS