These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different. As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival. So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen. The second difference is that these are going to be short. I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid. I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
The first of several zombie films in the festival, Exit Humanity follows the trials of Civil War veteran Edward Young as he deals with a horrifying zombie outbreak that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. The movie is framed as the chronicle of Edward’s Journal, the action interspersed with narration and small animated vignettes.
Slow Burn, Character Driven, Horror
With all the zombie action at After Dark this year, Exit Humanity was the movie I expected the least from, and I was very pleasantly proven wrong. I wasn’t sure how the animated segments would mesh with the rest of the picture and I was worried it would ruin the immersion. It didn’t. In fact, combined with the excellent, gravelly voice over of Brian Cox narrating, the journal sequences really helped to pull the movie together and keep it moving forward.
The most surprising element of the film though, was the lead, newcomer Mark Gibson. Genre movies and zombie movies in particular, are not exactly known for their displays of acting talent, so a zombie film that’s a character driven narrative with a slow emotional build seems doomed to failure from the start, but Gibson carries the weight. Yes there are a few Anakin-shout-at-the-heavens moments, but Gibson honestly delivers a depth of emotion almost unseen in movies of this budget.
The score was also excellent. Creepy, slow banjos transport you to the period and are absolutely perfect for the lonely tracts of wilderness, devoid of human life, where the story takes place.
For all my praise, I do think Exit Humanity was longer than it should have been. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the time it took on screen for the characters to develop their relationships (it lent the events more emotional weight), but there were parts that really dragged. There is action and excitement, but if you’re looking for a high-octane, zombie splatter fest, this is not it.
Exit Humanity is recommended, especially for fans of character driven horror, like The Walking Dead (the ties to this series are even more direct – the zombies in the film are even called ‘walking dead’), or for fans of Westerns (plenty of zombie and six-shooter action). In fact the film is a great gateway for fans of one genre to test the other. I can see an awesome viewing party where Exit Humanity is presented between The Walking Dead and the recent remake of True Grit.
If you play or are interested in the Deadlands rpg, then Exit Humanity is practically required viewing. It’s not a perfect match, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better film to get new players in the mood for the setting.
Without giving away any spoilers, Exit Humanity, like many zombie movies, focuses on the mechanics of the infection and transmission of the zombie plague as a plot point. In spite of 4e D&D’s embrace of some elements of Romero style zombies (the ‘shot to the head’ in the form of the zombie weakness trait), the game has yet to introduce a zombie with a plague spreading bite (there are some good 3e examples – my favourite is from the 3e Dark Sun adventure in Dungeon magazine 110). To correct this, I present the Romero zombie (in Gamma World format, since that’s what I’m playing lately).
The description of the zed virus and Romero zombie template isn’t missing (well, not by accident), it will just have to wait until later in the week. There are at least two more zombie films in the festival and I need to save some crunchy material for them.
“Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!”
Named after the creator of a series of documentary videos scavenged from the cities of the ancients that chronicle first-hand accounts of the monsters’ attacks, Romero zombies are carriers of the highly virulent zed virus that wiped out their own worldline. Ironically, it is the predations of killer robots, malevolent extraterrestrials, mutant plants and radioactive monsters from other apocalyptic worldlines that keeps the virus from overwhelming this reality.