Synopsis: Seven misfit students must unite against a growing gang of unhuman savages.
Stars: Brianne Tju, Benjamin Wadsworth, Uriah Shelton, Ali Gallo, Drew Scheid, Lo Graham, Peter Giles
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Two short weeks ago, we talked about Torn Hearts, a Blumhouse Television and EPIX production that hit a dandy of a sweet spot melding horror and the country music scene. A low-budget effort that still had the flair and, most importantly, the ambition of a project with double its budget, that movie was an easy to recommend a bit of entertainment from the streaming service as well as the television branch of Jason Blum’s film production company. Never short on product, EPIX and Blumhouse Television are back with Unhuman, another offering drawing blood from the same ghoulish vein as Torn Hearts, albeit in an entirely different realm of the horror genre.
Cheekily positing itself as a twisted After-School Special, writers Patrick Melton (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and Marcus Dunstan (Piranha 3DD, who also directs) get the film off to a rollicking start via an introduction of the stock characters. Nice girl Ever (Brianne Tju, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged) and not quite as nice best friend Tamra (Ali Gallo) join their classmates for a 4H field trip into the backwoods. You’ve got your jock (Uriah Shelton, Freaky) and his trophy girlfriend (Lo Graham, This Is the End) as well as the token minority friend (C.J. LeBlanc, Just Mercy), not to mention two teens ripe for bullying (Drew Scheid, Halloween and Lucy Burvant) and the brooding object of multiple affections (Benjamin Wadsworth). Chaperoning them is a wise-cracking teacher (Owen Wilson impersonator Peter Giles) and a grumpy bus driver.
We’ve barely met this troupe before an accident sends their bus careening off the road and puts them face to face with an outside danger no amount of extracurricular credit could have prepared them. Radio broadcasts drop few clues, but it’s clear they’re on their own for the immediate future, so staying on the bus to be picked off one by one isn’t an option. Not that the vicious creature circling the bus is giving them much of choice in that matter, either. As the class separates and begins to learn more about themselves and the events leading up to the day, they’ll see that while they have been fending off a multiplying horde of ghouls, the cause of it all might be one of their own.
For a good chunk of Unhuman, Dunstan has a good thing going, and it’s primarily attributed to a game cast who takes the material only as seriously as it will allow. Possessing several nicely placed twists along the way, I found it easy to stay engaged with the group. While all are playing specific archetypes of the teen genre, none entirely settle into comfortable ways of approaching these familiar characters. I especially liked Tju (so good in the upcoming Winona Ryder movie The Cow), who leads Unhuman with grit that carries it through the back half when its low-budget skeleton starts to show.
It’s disappointing that the filmmakers couldn’t land the ending, and if I’m being honest, it gets messy as it moves toward the finale. Almost feeling like there was a rush to complete the movie, there’s a mish-mash quality to those last moments, which are incongruent with the pleasant surprises presented up until that point. Unhuman is strong enough for me to offer it as a worthy suggestion as a 90-minute diversion, but you’ll need to level-set your expectations near the finish line.