'Exit Humanity'

Given the drastically overcrowded field of zombie movies, "Exit Humanity" merits appreciation for really trying something different: It's a Civil War-era piece that, low budget aside, is in many ways closer in feel to "Cold Mountain" than to the usual George Romero-derived splatfest.

Given the drastically overcrowded field of zombie movies, “Exit Humanity” merits appreciation for really trying something different: It’s a Civil War-era piece that, low budget aside, is in many ways closer in feel to “Cold Mountain” than to the usual George Romero-derived splatfest. John Geddes’ Canadian feature is easier to love in the abstract, however: While it’s handsomely shot and (occasionally) animated, its humorless, sometimes ponderous progress doesn’t ultimately make complete sense of the period/undead combo. Already sold to some markets, it will draw but also divide curious genre fans primarily via home formats.

Heavy on narration (by Brian Cox), onscreen text in elaborate cursive script and ominously titled dividers (“Chapter VII: Retribution”), Geddes’ script opens with a prologue in which Confederate soldier Edward Young (Mark Gibson) is nonplussed to find himself confronted during a forest skirmish by one ashen-faced Yankee who is unable to die.

Six years later, this outbreak of “dead-alives” has claimed Edward’s wife, while his son is missing. Having figured out how to kill these creatures (yes, it’s the brains), he sets out with his musket into the plagued countryside to find his son.

He finds another survivor in likewise ginger-bearded Isaac (Adam Seybold), who strong-arms the reluctant hero into helping him rescue his sister (Jordan Hayes) from the clutches of Gen. Williams (Bill Moseley). The general has set up a bunker with two goons (Ari Millen, Jason Brown) and tippling Doc Johnson (Stephen McHattie) where they turn kidnap victims into guinea pigs, letting them get bitten by the undead in order to test Doc’s dubious cure.

Later, the good guys shelter with old medicine woman Eve (Dee Wallace), a purported witch who holds the supernatural secret behind this unnatural state of affairs. Eventually it’s up to Edward alone, however, to settle scores with the megalomaniacal general.

Ontario’s Beaver Valley stands in ably for Tennessee in Brendan Uegama’s attractive outdoor lensing, and good use is made of Snezhan Bodurov’s graphic-novel-style animation in several explanatory flashbacks. But while the odd match maintains a modicum of interest, the horror and dramatic elements fall short. Fans will no doubt complain about the relatively modest gore, but more detrimental is the pic’s deficiency in the way of scares, tension and exciting setpieces, beyond an OK climactic raid.

Worse, the serious, even tragic tenor throughout isn’t supported by any depth in the character writing; nor do situations and dialogue rise above cliche. Rather boring fanatic Gen. Williams & Co. recall similar figures in the likes of “Cold Mountain” and “Ride With the Devil.” Called upon to weep and lament too many times, Williams is not spared the inevitable shaking-fist-at-God scream “Noooooooo!”

Still, for those who prefer their zombies (a word never spoken here) in a novel package rather than the same old “Night” or “Shaun of the Dead”-derived forms, “Exit” will have some intrigue. Design and tech contributions are solid, perfs earnest if a bit variable.

Exit Humanity

Live-Action/Animated - Canada

Production

A Foresight Features production. (International sales: Foresight Features, Toronto.) Produced by Jesse Thomas Cook, Matt Wiele, John Geddes. Co-producer, Cody Calahan. Directed, written, edited by John Geddes.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Brendan Uegama; music, Nate Kreiswirth, Jeff Graville, Ben Nudds; music supervisor, Kreiswirth; production designer/art director, Jason David Brown; costume designer, Alex Brown; supervising sound editors, Kirill Belousov, Cody Calahan; special effects makeup, the Brothers Gore; visual effects supervisors, Joe Raasch, Colin Berry; animation, Snezhan Bodurov; assistant director, Calahan; casting, Marjorie Lecker. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Nov. 4, 2011. (In Sitges, Toronto After Dark film festivals.) Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Mark Gibson, Dee Wallace, Bill Moseley, Stephen McHattie, Brian Cox, Adam Seybold, Jordan Hayes, Ari Millen, Jason Brown, Sarah Stunt, Christian Martyn.

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