Mankind is forever wrapped up in a race to survive. Survive the elements. Survive the day. Survive a marriage. You get where this is going. Several great film stories have been captured that great race, but rarely does one come along with as much allegory as THE HUMAN RACE. Made on a budget and with very few (if any) familiar faces, it’s one more trip into THE TWILIGHT ZONE where the ordinary man finds himself trapped by extraordinary circumstances which require his undivided attention … or the price of failure might very well be his head.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Eighty strangers from all walks of life are ripped out of their daily lives and forced to participate in a brutal race to the death. The rules are simple; follow the arrows or you will die, step on the grass and you will die, get lapped twice and you will die. Only one participant will survive. Race or die. There can be only one winner, but who will survive and for what purpose?”
Essentially, what you have with an inspired bit of storytelling that takes the shape of THE HUMAN RACE is a modern-day episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. (FYI: A good one, at that.) While the studio synopsis implies that these people are all strangers, that’s not entirely correct: a few small groups are pulled out of reality together, and I suspect that’s a requirement in order to give this tale the kind of emotional grounding available in the early scenes.
However, the narrative as constructed by writer/director Paul Hough leaves a bit to be desired. Right off the bat, I thought that I’d somehow picked up a foreign film (the opening narration might be French with English subtitles). Now, there’s nothing wrong with foreign films, people – in fact, I watch quite a few of them each week in my bid to be a widely read internet media critic – but that set-up didn’t need to be handled by a foreign language. Some folks might not survive the opening sequence as a consequence. (We’ll call them ‘knuckleheads.’)
Also, it takes a bit of time to fully comprehend what’s going on in the film. Yes, there is the narrative set-up. It repeats itself a few times within the first twenty minutes (definitely a plus). But – once more – audiences are introduced to a character who appears to perhaps be the motion picture’s leading star; needless to say, she doesn’t survive the opening engagement. Again, this might serve to unnerve the audience or cause some viewers to pull away from the picture. I usually recommended avoiding such obvious trickery unless your intent to little more than to confuse the butts sitting in their seats.
Once it becomes clear precisely what is going on here – a city-spanning game of survival – then it’s easy to relax and enjoy the ride. There are plenty of characters worth watching in here, and Hough keeps the emphasis on the rising tension between those who want to understand this event versus those who simply want to survive it. Needless to say (because of the type of picture), not everyone survives, but if you want to know what is finally going on you have to hang with this all the way to the very last frame. It may not be entirely original … but it’s definitely worth the trip.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties as reviewer if I failed to point out that THE HUMAN RACE won ‘Best Feature Film’ at the 2013 Dragon*Con Short Film Festival. Also, actress Trista Robinson won the ‘Best Female Performance’ from the 2013 A Night of Horror International Film Festival. (FYI: Robinson’s work is pretty terrific.) The film has racked up an impressive list of other accolades that you can find at IMDB.com if you’re interested. Bravo, indeed!
THE HUMAN RACE (2013) is produced by Paul Hough Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by XLRator Media. As for the technical specifications? This tight little indie has some very interesting cinematography but I’ll admit that the audio track could’ve used a better mix through a couple of sequences. (FYI: it isn’t anything all that distracting; it’s just that it isn’t very inspired, either.) If it’s special features you want, then you have a director and cast commentary to look forward to as well as some deleted scenes (nothing special) and the theatrical trailer. A good collection!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Look, I’m not even going to try to convince you that THE HUMAN RACE is your kind of film if you’ve seen the trailer, seen the box art, or happened across it on the shelves of your corner video store. Methinks those folks are truly inspired by B-movies will know a quality B-movie when they see it, and RACE certainly fits that bill. In fact, some of its camera work might be considered to artsy for the average B-movie fan … but it’s exactly the kind of visual surprise I like to find when I’m looking for one.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLRator Media provided me with a DVD copy of THE HUMAN RACE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.