"It was as though he was alive, but had been stripped of his soul."

Zombies have permeated modern culture with the same relentless ferocity as they attack on screen; therefore, we've already had a taste of zombies in historical settings. Fiction mash-ups like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies have spawned their own genre of literature. Even gaming has got in on the action, with add-ons for games like Red Dead Redemption bringing the undead to the Wild West. However, the depiction of the undead in cinema in such settings has, to date, been more sparse. Therefore, I was delighted by the promise of an American Civil War-era horror, which is just what we have in Exit Humanity, written and directed by John Geddes (with this only his second outing in the directorial chair).

Edward Young – soldier – is also our narrator for the movie. At the close of the spectacularly bloody combat of the Civil War you might think that nothing would hold any surprises, but it certainly does as Young observes dead men getting up and attacking, not according to their old allegiances, but indiscriminately. We move forward quickly in years, and this plague of what Young understands as 'soullessness' has spread, claiming his wife and son. Young is a broken man; all he considers he can do is to keep a journal – his last words, should be also fall prey. Moving on from the old family home, however, he encounters another man, someone who desperately needs his help. Perhaps the war never ended. Perhaps it just changed.

Relatively new actor Mark Gibson (Edward Young) has a great deal to carry on his shoulders for the first part of this film; not only is he narrating, but he's the only non-walking dead cast member for a pretty significant amount of time. Anyone would find this a challenge, and at times it felt like the film was being slightly stretched, despite his best efforts, but the film and Gibson's otherwise very strong performance improved as more action crept into the plot and he could more prove what else he could do. All the cast members give solid performances here, though I have to say it was a real pleasure seeing Bill Moseley being given a character with depth for him to really get into. At his best, he's a fine actor, his voice always imbued with threat and concealed rage. As General Williams, despite not having masses of screen time, Moseley plays very well indeed.

The use of the period setting allows for some ingenious touches. Whilst the Civil War is not heavily used as a theme, it provides an interesting framework. For instance, Young's attempts to understand the phenomenon he's seeing is couched in nineteenth century terms – he debates the lack of a soul, the inability of his neighbour to recognise him. It also allows the film to ponder what happens to military men in such a situation: can they adapt, can they temper their entrenched attitudes, and how do they treat those they meet once the boundaries they understand have shifted? As such, the film shares some things in common with the dynamic in Day of the Dead, despite the hundred-year-plus time difference. It shares a few things with films like I Am Legend (not the one with Will fucking Smith though, obviously) and Stake Land too, though it is definitely its own entity and the attention paid to the period detail really helps establish that. One anachronism could derail the whole thing, but happily, that doesn't occur – to my amateur's eye, anyway. The use of animated segments was also a potential risk, but Geddes' ability as a writer/director ensure that nothing feels like an aimless add-on.

Exit Humanity is an entrant into a very populous genre, and I've complained many times about the overuse of zombies in film generally, but the quality of its performances and the deft hand used with its major plot developments (including offering an explanation for the outbreak, which few films are keen to do) definitely kept it an engaging watch for me. Ultimately, as much as the period setting was easy on the eye and had its own potential, Exit Humanity shows that the zombie genre can still be used as an interesting pressure cooker for human emotion and purpose, if it's well-written enough.

This is a stylish presentation with good clarity and colour balance, and the steady presence of the evocative incidental music helps to build atmosphere here. The Exit Humanity screener I saw also comes with a 'Making Of' featurette and trailer.

Review by Keri O’Shea

Released by Metrodome Distribution
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review