Unhuman (2022) Review
Unhuman begins with title cards proclaiming it ”A Blumhouse Afterschool Special” and “Presented by the Student Teach Division (STD)”. That was the last thing I was expecting from a film by director Marcus Dunstan and his long-time co-writer Patrick Melton. While the three Feast films had their share of humour the duo are better known for more serious fare such as several of the later Saw films as well as The Collector and its sequel, both of which Dunstan also directed.
And it does begin like an Afterschool Special, Ever (Brianne Tju, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Three Months) goes from dealing with her overprotective mother to being picked up by her best friend Tamra (Ali Gallo, Before I Go) who nearly hits Randall (Benjamin Wadsworth, Preydators, Joy Comes in the Morning) on their way to school. But it’s all good because there’s no classes today, they’re going on a field trip.
And soon enough they’re on the bus with Mr. Lorenzo (Peter Giles, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, Final Fantasy VII Remake) reading them the rules and making sure they pay attention by collecting their cell phones, a sure sign that disaster is about to strike. And it does, the bus crashes just as a message about a chemical weapons attack comes over the radio and not only does cheerleader Jacey (Lo Graham, Swamp Shark, Miami Magma) break her nose, a zombie makes a meal out of Mr. Lorenzo.
Once the survivors hole up in a conveniently located and empty building I was hoping Unhuman would turn into Lord of the Flies with zombies. However, the film’s tagline “The dead will have this club for breakfast” is a much better indicator of where the plot is heading as the various high school stereotypes have to work together to survive.
And stereotypes they are. Ever is the brainy Asain girl, Jacey’s boyfriend is Danny (Uriah Shelton, Freaky, Enter the Warriors Gate) a bullying jock, Randall is a DnD playing nerd, you get the idea. And as much as I don’t care for The Collector or the Saw films, the characters got enough development and backstory to explain why they were targeted. Here they’re simply archetypes.
That might be forgivable if the film delivered enough thrills to keep the viewer occupied. But Unhuman never really works as a horror film. The zombies aren’t particularly interesting to look at, lacking the usual signs of wounds and decay, although when one of the kids gets bitten they develop some visible signs of infection. That’s not the only inconsistency in how they’re portrayed, the first one casually walks up to the bus and knocks on the door, and after that they show no intelligence, simply trying to smash their way through anything between them and a potential meal.
Unhuman’s attacks are staged in a fairly unexciting fashion as well, frequently using either slow or sped up motion which only makes them seem less threatening. For all the expertise Dunstan has at staging torture scenes, the mechanics of an attack scene seem to be beyond him. They’re also relatively bloodless, although there is an effective throat-biting scene.
Unhuman begins to veer off in a different direction near the end of the second act as some of the characters begin to suspect this isn’t as random as it appears. That it seems they personally were meant to end up in this building. I’m not going to spoil the film’s big reveal but I will say it’s one of those twists that will either make you grin or roll your eyes. And despite having the film’s best-executed scenes of violence, the script and direction couldn’t sell me on it. The Breakfast Club inspired voiceover at the end only makes it worse. A mid-credits scene doesn’t help either, though it is darkly amusing.
Maybe if Unhuman hadn’t been made for streaming and Dunstan and Melton had been able to get more vicious and brutal the film might have worked better. But as it stands it’s half high school anti-bullying message and part weak horror movie. And with a film like The Sadness having just come out, this is no time to half-ass a zombie film.