There are certain kinds of stories used in movies that become so popular that they pass the tipping point plunging into the hackney. Among the myriad of genres available to the screenwriters the one most prone to overuse is found in the realm of horror flicks. Even in that sliver of filmmaking there are slices that have become overused for example the slasher flick. Without a doubt another has to be the zombie horde. The ravaging mass on staggering undead has become exceptionally popular in some rather unusual ways. People dress up as zombies and normal going out into the night on ‘zombie’ crawls’ acting out scenarios of doom on the city streets. A very popular television series featuring these ‘Walking Dead’ demonstrates that this kind of story is far from being played out, there are still aspects that can be discovered if the filmmaker has the insight and talent new twists on the zombie film can still be had. Considering the undead has been a staple of horror films since the thirties when most were the result of intervention of a practitioner of the occult forbidden arts of voodoo. Since George Romero reinvented zombies as social commentary theses rotting corpses have had the potential for innovative plot lines as well as some of the worse quick and cheap independent movies. Fortunately for devotees of movies there are still creative filmmakers willing to think out of the box. John Geddes happens to be one such auteurs and his latest opus, ‘Exit Humanity’ demonstrates that this old dog has a few new tricks left. He is part of a new vanguard of horror masters that has looked into history for a setting; transplanting the familiar creatures of death into a well known historical setting, the Civil War. He is among the first to proceed on this tangent but the trend seems to be growing. Many ‘steam punk’ stories are based in this turbulent time in our country’s history as well as a recent action horror film that turns Abraham Lincoln into a vampire slayer. Mr. Geddes pulls back in time to an era when there was certainly no shortage of fresh courses just waiting for reanimation. I was hesitant when I read the synopsis on the screener but within minutes of watching the film I found myself enthralled, my attention affixed to the screen, realizing I was watching something special.
There is a certain fascination that many Americans hold for the bloodiest war ever fought on our soil, the Civil War or as some in the Deep South continue to refer to it, ‘The War of Northern Aggression’. The summer is an appropriate time to turn our attention to this conflict as July Forth does mark the anniversary of the most costly battle in the war, Gettysburg. This film immediately draws the audience into the brutal violence of the time by opening with an all out battle scene. We see a familiar sight for war buffs and frequent viewers of the History Channel, battle weary men clad in the grey and blue of their respective nations clashing in mortal combat. Then, slowly we notice there is a third force merging into the fray; a sizable force of zombies. Rather that commit a lot of film to a prolonged explanation this scene economically defines the foundation of this alternate universe. Socioeconomic fight that lead to dividing the nation has been settled on the battlefield but now as the two sides attempt to heal and rebuild the battle lines are once again drawn. Instead of policy and geography determining you allegiance it is now a bitter struggle for the living to defend against the ravenous host of the decaying undead.
The film continues to renovate persistent tropes by updating the ‘found footage’ motif. True to a period appropriate story telling the video footage has been replaced by recently located journal. This provides an intimate first person account through the personal experiences of the narrator, Edward Young (Mark Gibson). Innovations like this are accumulated stacking one layer upon another creating a solid foundation for the story. With such a fanciful departure from both the classic Civil War film and the traditional zombie flick. If fans of either kind of flick complain about the mixture or divergence from the typical then you can be certain they have not seen this movie. It is not uncommon for a story set in this period to feature a man who lost his wife and son but once again the construction of the plot surrounds the anticipated character archetype and places him in a totally novel set of circumstances.
It is one thing to use a journal as a prop to ease into narration as the written word gives way to dialogue but Mr. Geddes takes things a step further. Common to the journals of the period Edward accompanied his words with numerous drawings of the people and circumstances he encountered in his life. As the camera focuses o one of these sketches the audience is whisked into the depicted scene becoming a firsthand observer of the story. This is simply put brilliant adding an immediacy and intimacy to the film that is usually lacking particularly in a movie featuring decaying antagonists.
I found myself compelled to watch this film several times, with each viewing is discovered yet another layer with nuances I had not yet explored. It has been a very long time since I felt that way about a horror film. Much of this is derived by the mélange offered up by the director. He is relatively new to his craft as writer and director with one previous feature to his credit, ‘Scarce’. There he took on the standard horror ploy of isolation. I look forward to obtaining a copy to add to what I am certain will become a growing collection of this artist’s work. The drawings slip into period style animation before finally morphing into live action. This enhances the overall effect of transporting the audience back in time to witness the travails of this simple solider. In all this film is rich in detail with but a few technical missteps. Fir something made on a miniscule budget it is the epitome of the independent film; talent, innovation and art over the overwhelming need for box office.