Humans can’t handle too much reality.Thomas Stearns Elliot
First, we hear some noises, we cannot distinguish anything. Then some voices become more and more recognizable, and humans appear. An air of mystery covers that introduction, and we are disoriented for a few minutes. Stephen Karam’s The Humans (2021) takes very little to achieve much. Minimalist in his staging and in the resources that accompany the narrative. From there he tackles with great rigor an analysis of characters that set the stage for an intense drama.
It is Thanksgiving and the Blake family has gathered at the apartment of one of the daughters who has just moved to New York. Between inconsequential conversations and preparations for dinner we discover each of the characters. Erik (Richard Jenkins) the patriarch of the conservative family, who tries to be a kind of moral guide. Hostess Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) is the smallest of the family and the most daring and vanguardist alongside her reserved but critical and incisive husband Richard (Steven Yeun).
On the other spectrum is the older sister Aimee (Amy Schumer). She is the one who faces the most turbulence and her secrets upset everyone. Mother Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell) has many pent-up emotions and is at breaking point. The most symbolic figure is the grandmother played by June Squibb who is nothing more than an allusion to the fragility of life and a parallel to the current state of the family relationship. With this disparate group, director Stephen Karam proposes a miniature world and each one of the figures can be interpreted as one of the groups in today’s society. That family can be a model of the world we live in.
The cinematography of Lol Crawley (45 Years, Ballast) must feed on shadows and close-ups. The justified lack of lighting makes the shots approach the codes of suspense and each scene scales in intensity before the harbinger of a misfortune that we hasten to imagine due to the composition of the image. The theatrical treatment of the staging and the way the camera approaches the characters makes the viewer go deeper into the story. The veteran Nico Muhly (The Illusionist, The Reader) finds with his music the right notes to accompany Crawley’s images and give the right intonation to the director’s speech.
The Humans is a film that avoids being grandiloquent and takes refuge in the most basic concepts of cinematographic storytelling, excellent performances, and a polished staging to develop a dense script that is based on the study of the characters and their psychological profiles.