As with so many monster movies, The Humans, like The Blob, The Shining, and The Bad Seed is a simple title but with horrific implications. Out of an ordinary occasion we encounter troubling, mysterious circumstances. The difference between “The Humans” and a typical scary movie is that The Humans allows us to meet a particular group of humans and, to paraphrase Commandant Perry’s message to General William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812, they are us.
The Humans, written by Stephen Karam, began as a stage play off-Broadway in 2015, going on to the Broadway stage the following year and winning a Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Now The Humans, as adapted to the screen and directed by its creator, Mr. Karam, is streaming on the premium television station, Showtime.
The scenario is this: It’s Thanksgiving and members of the Blake family come together to celebrate the holiday at the dilapidated dwelling that serves as the Manhattan apartment overlooking the city’s Chinatown where Brigid Blake (Beanie Feldstein) and her love interest, Richard (Steven Yeun) are new occupants. Brigid’s mother, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) and father, Erik (Richard Jenkins), have traveled from Scranton, Pennsylvania to join Brigid and Richard, as well as Brigid’s older sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer) and their paternal grandmother, whom they call Momo and who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (June Squibb).
Richard is a kindly newcomer to the Blake family who is obsessed with his nightly dreams and what they might mean. Brigid is a struggling musician, Aimee is a newly laid-off attorney who has recently broken up with her female partner and now faces a colostomy due to ulcerative colitis. And Momo, confined to a wheelchair, is nearly helpless and often mumbles incoherently.
Add to this bleak gathering of the Blake family the disastrous condition of this old and deteriorating apartment complex, with its creaky noises, blown-out light sockets, and leaky plumbing (sound design by Skip Lievsay and production design by David Gropman) and we are made to feel the apprehension that constantly accompanies these characters. From the nightmarish dreams, to the dementia that may run in and through the family, to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that took place within sight of Brigid’s crumbling apartment building, The Humans is a haunting story, made all the more frightful because of its ordinariness. The Humans we meet here could be, may be, us.
What: The Humans
Where: Showtime When: Streaming anytime (at 1 hour, 48 minutes)