PLOT: Seventy-nine random people who happened to be on the same city block, disappear in a flash of white light, and wake up in mysterious surroundings. They are told that they've been forrcibly entered into a marathon, where they're forced to race through extensive terrain. If they leave the path they've been given- they die. If they're lapped twice- they die.
REVIEW: THE HUMAN RACE is a work-in-progress. The film I saw at the Fantasia Film Festival has a whole lot of potential, but both looked and felt like a rough-cut, and writing a review for a movie in this kind of shape is tough. I want to be fair to the filmmakers, who regardless of the technical or budgetary limitations, have made an intriguing, occasionally exciting film- but I can't say whether or not a future version of the film will iron out any of the issues I had with it.
Nevertheless, even in it's current form, I appreciated THE HUMAN RACE for what it is. They “battle to the death” scenario has been done time and time again (although THE HUNGER GAMES has made it hot), but director/writer Paul Hough takes a unique approach, with a huge selection of people randomly chosen for the race- and from all walks of life. We get elderly people who can't keep up, children, physically fit and unfit adults, the handicapped, etc.
Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, but the film is focused mainly on four people; two Iraq War vets (Paul McCarthy-Boyington and Eddie McGee)- one of whom lost a leg in combat, and two hearing-impaired friends. The one-legged vet, played by McGee, is the film's choice role. McGee, a really charismatic character actor makes for an excellent hero, and his physical skill with crutches is pretty jaw-dropping. Rather than a handicap, McGee's character uses this to his advantage- as show by the movie's best sequence, where McGee uses his crutches, paired with some fancy footwork and bare-knuckle brawling, to dispatch a roomful of opponents.
In a ballsy move, director Hough allows big chunks of the film to unravel solely through subtitled sign language exchanges, but to his credit- this actually works quite well, and along with McGee's physical performance, give this a unique vibe that we don't usually in more mainstream fare. Hough also thoroughly examines the baser part of human nature (hence the doubly appropriate title), with some coming out as noble and heroic, and others turning into blood-crazed lunatics willing to do whatever they have to do in order to survive. Even people that start out as heroes may turn into monsters by the time the race draws to an end, as here can only be one victor.
While there's a lot that's good about it, even at ninety minutes, THE HUMAN RACE is uneven. The first ten minutes of the film, which is a long-set up to an early twist that is supposed to make the audience expect-the-unexpected, is wholly unnecessary, and could easily be cut out of the film. I also thought that the sci-fi twist that comes along a little later in the film shouldn't have been quite so spoon-fed, as it leads to a whole lot of exposition late in the game that feels tacked on. I suppose the intent was to leave it open for a follow-up, but to me- it robbed the film of mystery.
Still, once the credits rolled on THE HUMAN RACE, I had to admit that I had been thoroughly entertained by the film, even if I was occasionally aggravated by it. It's definitely not for everyone, but for me- it feel like a true, modern grindhouse film, and not in a cheeky, retro-kind of way. It's low-budget, but ambitious- and when it does occasionally succeed, it succeeds wildly.