The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/events/film/2024-04-26/humane/

Humane

Rated R, 93 min. Directed by Caitlin Cronenberg. Starring Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Sebastian Chacon, Alanna Bale, Sirena Gulamgaus, Uni Park, Enrico Colantoni, Peter Gallagher.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 26, 2024

Ever been sure that there are just too many damn people in the world? Is it every time you go outside and it’s five degrees hotter this year than last, and there’s news about another species going extinct, or another field gets plowed under for another shoddily-built apartment complex? Moreover, doesn’t it feel infuriating that the wealthy seem to be skipping through the apocalypse untouched?

It’s clear that these matters have been weighing on the minds of the Cronenberg family. Paterfamilias David dreamed of evolution in a microplastics world in Crimes of the Future, while son Brandon railed against the untouchable elites in Infinity Pool. Now daughter Caitlin fuses those two into an eco-drama about how the rich have become convinced that even the end of the world won’t affect them.

Or, as anthropologist Jared (Baruchel) erupts at the dinner table, “These rules aren’t made for people like us.” He’s the prodigal son, running PR flack for the government’s initiative to get people to sign up to be euthanized to cull the population by 20%. Or, as they call it, enlisting, because everything in America has to be a war – on terrorism, drugs, global warming, probably on Elmo eventually. What makes the script by Michael Sparaga (who waded into similar class-consciousness waters with 2011’s “revenge of the waiters” comedy Servitude) so intriguing is that the family isn't a bunch of in-denial reactionaries or oil executives. It's ecojournalist Charles (the always subtly great Gallagher), who has summoned Jared (who would enthusiastically shill Soylent Green if it saved the world and his standing), acid-tongued business exec Rachel (Hampshire, Schitt's Creek), indulged stage kid Ashley (Bale), and adopted son and addict Noah (Chacon, Emergency) to dinner and a revelation.

While the cold winds of Strindberg and Chekhov rattle the windows of Charles’ elegant Victorian mansion (paid for by a career of jet setting around the world to report on pollution), there’s a whiff of Ike Barinholtz’s MAGA-mocking Thanksgiving satire The Oath to this chamber piece. However, the tension there was purely from having all the family members increasingly at each other’s throats with little provocation. This time, there’s an unexpected guest, as one of the government's euthanizing agents turns up. Bob is played with blue-collar gusto by Colantoni: Probably best known as Veronica Mars’ supportive dad, Keith, his working-class charm in this staid bourgeois home is a smart juxtaposition, as if Jackie Gleeson pops on stage out of a trapdoor midway through The Seagull. He turns up like a cheery, chubby, chaos bomb, but is revealed to be a more subtle blade. In a house of shadows and muted browns, his baby-blue jumpsuit is the vessel by which Cronenberg introduces the political into the personal (or vice versa, depending on your perspective), and that’s when the family turns on itself.

Of course, the inevitable ensuing game of “suicide pact, you first” allows for some ghoulish slapstick rather than outright butchery. If Brandon absorbed daddy dearest’s predilection for body horror and new flesh, then Caitlin has clearly studied his razor wit and grasp of metaphorical social commentary. Her cutting conclusion may catch off guard those audiences expecting the chattering classes to get their easy comeuppance. Yet her condemnation of how people wield the shield of “the public good” for personal ends requires this deliciously tart ending.

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