The world needs more Thanksgiving horror. Sure, we have a few titles here and there but it’s tough to beat big Holiday films like Black Christmas or Trick ‘r Treat. 2021’s The Humans is a very special kind of solution to that problem. The Thanksgiving dramedy gathers a family together for the holiday but has seriously spooky shadows lurking all around its central plot.
The Humans brings a family of three generations together on Thanksgiving. The entire film takes place in an oddly spaced and dilapidated duplex in lower Manhattan. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun) are hosting their first big holiday dinner while also proving to her dad that she is a grown-up with a life of her own.
As the evening progresses, family secrets are revealed as strange occurrences begin to go bump in the night all around the family’s fall-out.
This film isn’t a traditional horror picture. It isn’t outright “scary” or loaded with jump scares. However, the absence of attention placed on the supernatural elements occurring under the family’s noses makes for a chilling portrait. Added to that, both Beanie’s father, Erik (Richard Jenkins) and mom, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) are permitting several glasses of Thanksgiving wine to loosen their lips on several enormous holiday shattering reveals.
There are a lot of elements of The Humans that remind me of Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). The horror in Wise’s film wasn’t blatant and wasn’t anything you could see. Instead, it played its big horror moments with audio and used character development and surrounding subtleties to put goosebumps on its audience’s arms.
The acting and ensemble cast alone is enough reason to watch The Humans. But, the elegantly laid horror elements are a perfect cocktail for a rewatchable Thanksgiving pick. The entire film is very grounded in this family’s drama as well. So, for those of us who have hosted Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by a lot of family, you know that the horror of those moments is on the day.
Stephen Karam directs from an adaptation of his stage play by the same name. He transforms traditional stage into a well-laid-out and claustrophobic duplex. The isolation of the Manhattan duplex begins to work terrifying wonders over the course of the film.
Halfway through The Humans, Yeun’s character discusses a comic book that he read as a youth in which half-alien, half-demon creatures would sit around and tell horror stories about humans and the lives that they lead. Since the entire film is filmed very voyeuristically, it’s almost like the audience are the monsters that Yeun discusses.
It took me a couple of viewings to catch all the supernatural stuff occurring in the periphery. The spooky events begin to happen almost right from the beginning of the film. It’s fun to keep your eyes out for those moments while watching the very real family drama occurring at the film’s center.
I say, come for the subtle horror elements and stay for Richard Jenkins and the incredible acting from this cast. There is a certain amount of comfort that lives in this film as well. That combined with the elegant horror elements make for a rewatchable film that has become a new yearly watch for Thanksgiving.
A24’s The Humans is currently streaming on Showtime as well as on Blu-ray.