Saturday, October 29, 2022

Unhuman: A Blumhouse Afterschool Special

Nothing was scarier than the “Afterschool” specials of the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were trying to terrify kids with the consequences of sniffing glue (and other assorted vices), but they really just creeped us out with their manipulation and corniness. This film is described, with tongue in cheek, as a “Blumhouse Afterschool” special, but happily it is not as lectury as some of their recent films (hello Black Christmas). Lessons will still be learned when Marcus Dunstan’s Unhuman will be available on Prime as a regular SVOD title on Halloween.

Poor Ever knows her newly-popular lifelong-bestie Tamra is slowly withdrawing from her and she will probably just let it happen. At least Tamra still sits with her on the bus for the PTA’s latest feel-good, tree-hugging field trip. This would be a heck of a time for a zombie apocalypse, wouldn’t it? It might be more like a viral break-out, but something like that sure seems to happen.

Suddenly, Ever and her surviving classmates are hiding in an abandoned institutional building that looks like it has become a frequent site for raves. To get through this crisis, she and Tamra will have to work with two role-playing geeks and some of the jocks that bullied them. Alas, that might be difficult, because their prejudices and resentments have become so ingrained and internalized.

Halfway through, Dunstan and co-screenwriter Patrick Melton pull a carpet-under-our-feet revelation that could have been an eye-roller, but they execute it quite cleverly. They also largely avoid woke virtue signaling. In fact, some of the snark coming from the field trip chaperone, phys ed teacher Mr. Lorenzo satirizes that kind of kneejerk rhetoric quite cuttingly.

Frankly, Brianne Tju looks more like a homecoming queen than a shy wall-flower, but she sells Ever’s rage to survive with her energy and down-to-earth attitude. Peter Gilles is wryly and ruthlessly funny as the acerbic Lorenzo. However, most of the other teens are basically just the
Breakfast Club stereotypes they are supposed to be and nothing more.

There is just a generally unruliness and a resistance to cheap sentimental John Hughes cliches that makes
Unhuman weirdly appealing. Some of the people we are supposed to root for to turn out to be rotten in Unhuman, just as it happens in high school and in real-life. It is a grubby bit of teen-zombie horror, but it is amusing, at least more than half the time. Recommended as a solid sitting-on-the-coach-with-limited-expectations stream, Unhuman joins Prime’s non-premium library this Monday (10/31).