Stephen Karam adapts his own play with The Humans, a family drama that echoes the joys of theatre while still making ample use of the tools of cinema.
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Stephen Karam’s The Humans (adapted from Karam’s own play) is a treat for anyone who loves to watch actors act and bounce off of each other, developing rich and recognisable characters and relationships over the course of a film. Those actors are Richard Jenkins, Jane Houdyshell, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, June Squibb, and Steven Yuen (my MVP for the comedic relief he brings to an already darkly funny film). Feldstein and Yuen play a couple who have invited her family to their new NYC apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. As with many family get-togethers, casual conversation slowly devolves into a night that dredges up secrets and traumas.
Karam films a one-location Thanksgiving gathering in a way that echoes the joys of theatre — wide shots allow you to notice actors’s body language, and to watch an actor react even when they’re not the centre of the scene. But this is much more than filmed theatre; Karam knows the power of a sparingly used closeup or mid shot. The film even dips into existential horror territory at the end, turning a realistic family drama into the stuff of nightmares with spine-chilling use of darkness, shadow, and the sounds of things going bump in the night. I’m not totally sure what to make of the film, or if it all comes together thematically, but I was always gripped by the characters, who all feel so lived-in and reminiscent of real people I know.
The Humans is now available on Showtime in the US and on VOD in Canada.
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