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Human Race, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Certainly not disabled where action is concerned."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's an obvious thing to say in a review, and probably everyone who writes a review of this movie will say some variation, but what the heck: "The Human Race" kicks a fair amount of ass even though its star only has the one leg. As almost obligatory as that comment is, at least it gets a low-budget independent movie into someone's head. Then they can watch it and discover that it's actually better than just a novelty piece.

Eighty people have been snatched up from a Los Angeles street corner in a flash of white light and placed on a path... somewhere. They include Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), who has just learned that her cancer is in remission; amputee and veteran Eddie (Eddie McGee), who was giving an inspirational speech at the special-needs school where his friend Justin (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) teaches; immigrants like Gabriel (Fred Coury), Ting (Celine Tien), and her brother Shio Lau (Ian Tien), and more. Eddie's not the only one with a disability; two (Trista Robinson & T. Arthur Cottam) are deaf and an older vet (J. Louis Reid) moves even slower than he does. Their instructions are simple: Follow the path. Stray from it, and you die, with only certain buildings designated as safe zones. Get lapped twice, and you will die. Do this until there's only one of you left.

It's a viciously straightforward plot, but it's what writer/director Paul Hough does with it that makes it worth the audience's attention. Hough uses the high stakes to get at just what the people in this group are capable of, getting a broad enough cross-section that they can represent the larger audience fairly well. It runs the gamut between the expected cynicism and optimism with plenty of different gradations in between, and opportunities for characters to move back and forth along the scale. Even the disabled characters and others that would often be played reflexively sympathetic or as victims get to occasionally show their less altruistic sides.

Since at least some characters are willing to win the race at any cost, that means that the number has to be winnowed, and Hough does an impressively sadistic job of that. When it comes time for two people to fight, it's mean and at close quarters, with the unique dangers of the situation always kept right where the audience can see them. Hough pulls a couple of impressive sneak attacks on characters and the audience (sometimes having things come out of the blue is exactly what a movie needs) and builds up to other moments quickly and fairly. And while there's not a whole lot of money available for visual effects and the like, the bloody method of dispatching people who don't leave the path of fall behind is effective.

They've also got style; Hough may not go in for a lot of elaborate variety in his kills, but he knows how to make them count, and how to get numbers down from a hundred to a handful without ever letting the audience get blasť about the whole thing. The counting down is , and Hough and the other filmmakers are great at using plain, less-is-more devices and images to hammer things home.

(Note: The version screened was right on the border of being a work-in-progress, in that the cut was locked, including a slick set of opening titles and a nifty score, but some final color correction and sound work had to be done. Hough mentioned being very dissatisfied with the latter in the Q&A, but if this is what he didn't like, it should be really exceptional when he is satisfied.)

Having a nice cast helps, too. Sometimes, it's a matter of the right guy in the right role, such as Fred Coury taking a sudden turn; other times, it's someone playing against type, like Paul McCarthy-Boyington, who tends toward villain roles, as the most pure-hearted guy in the race. Trista Robinson and T. Arthur Cottam are invested enough to make the audience believe the actors are as deaf as the characters (well, a hearing audience, anyway; their ASL at least looks good), while Brianna Jackson is nice as the woman on an emotional roller coaster. But it's Eddie McGee folks are going to remember; while he's not an actor who is going to have the broadest range of roles offered to him (he plays "disabled veteran" a lot), he really should: Though a bit raw-seeming at points, he's got plenty of tough-guy charisma while doing his own stunts and action. He's better on crutches than a lot of actors are on two healthy legs, so like I said up top, he's perfectly capable of kicking ass with just one leg.

Yeah, I went there again; what can you say, the guy makes an impression. The whole movie does, in fact - Hough squeezes an awful lot of excitement and drama out of scant resources, producing a legitimately exhilarating action movie.

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originally posted: 08/27/12 14:17:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

10/22/20 danR Seaver, have you gone MAD? It's horrible; 1/2 way thru not a clue what's going on. Gave up. 1 stars
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