For some directors, putting the word “horror” anywhere near a film that they do not consider to be a horror film would be a mistake or a provocation. Not Karam. He was fascinated by horror films as a child in Scranton, Pennsylvania; her gateway drug was the Disney ghost story “The Watcher in the Woods” (1980), with Bette Davis as the owner of an English mansion mourning her missing daughter.
Now 42, Karam remains an avid horror fan, citing Kubrick and Polanski as inspirations for “The Humans,” which he directed and adapted for the screen from his 2016 Tony-winning play. Karam is proud of the horror elements of the film, as they help viewers visualize “how people conquer or deal with their fears in a spooky story”.
“It’s important for me to think of a movie, a play, or any story that I tell as having a strong, confident personality,” Karam said in a video interview. “I’m not wondering if this is a horror movie or a family drama, because the definitions can upset people who take ownership of what a horror movie is. “
“The Humans” takes place in a better days duplex newly occupied by Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun). The working parents of Brigid, Erik and Deirdre (Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell) come from Scranton; and Momo, the mother of Erik (June Squibb), who suffers from dementia. Brigid’s sister Aimee (Amy Schumer), who lives in Philadelphia and has just broken up with her girlfriend, also joins her.
At the family table, there’s good-natured turkey and baby back ribs, but also tough conversations about work, love, and depression. It’s a family filled with love, but also resentment and sorrow. Typical Thanksgiving dramatic stuff.
But from the start there is a feeling of unease, as if something terrible is on the way. Parts of the walls ooze and bubble with pustules like growths on a David Cronenberg mutant. There are weird portraits of scary people, like the art of a possessed castle in a Hammer movie. Frightening jumps, loud sounds, darkness, stillness: they are all thrilling. Horror movie stuff.