Unhuman Review – IGN


Unhuman will be available on digital VOD on June 3, 2022.

Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton’s Unhuman is humorously billed as a “Blumhouse Afterschool Special,” which means it’s nothing like the filmmakers’ more mature work. After winning Project Greenlight’s third season as writers on barroom creature-feature Feast, the duo amassed notoriety by writing a few of the Saw sequels and The Collection franchise (Dunstan would direct the latter, like he directs Unhuman). Dunstan and Melton’s signature quickly became savage slashers emphasizing “torture porn” gore, but Unhuman proves they can connect with the genre’s softer sides. It’s teenage gateway horror through and through — sometimes feeling too much like “olds” are writing “youths” — but executes an anti-bullying punch that successfully blends vicious undead peril and public service formats with a devious smile.

Unhuman takes the “scared straight” approach to horror when Brianne Tju’s outcast heroine and her cliquey classmates are caught in doomsday chaos. Their field trip driver rams into something, blood drenches the windshield before the bus breaks down, and radio broadcasts reveal a chemical attack has sent America into pandemonium. Those infected start turning into savage monsters through makeup effects that trace over veins and reflect zombie attributes. Popular jocks, tabletop Dungeon Master shut-ins, and heckled brace-faces must band together if there’s any hope of survival. Maybe with the apocalypse incoming, they can stop calling one another hurtful names and realize they’re stronger together than zinging everyone else from afar?

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At first, I thought the “Afterschool Special” title card was a cheeky throwaway gag until Unhuman asserts itself as a deathly, filled-with-consequences learning experience. Another title card says “Presented by the Student Teachers Division (STD),” and that’s the vibe Dunstan and Melton lovingly sustain. Their screenplay intended to speak loudly against the harms of bullying, and that’s when Unhuman is at its best. Amidst heads being bludgeoned open and heavy-metal mutants chasing underage targets, characters are permitted monologues that rage against the idea that what happens in high school stays in high school. There’s a heartfelt message at the core of this horror flick with training wheels that means a whole lot to someone who still remembers “descriptive” cafeteria nicknames like “meatball” and worse.

Although, Dunstan and Melton are significantly better writers of adult-age horror than emulating teenage dialogue. Prom queens and gamer bros speak in brand names like “Fortnite” or “Dolce.” The basest blueprints for an outbreak survival thriller see frantic teens scampering through minimalist blacklight raver hallways and dilapidated apartment complexes. The restraints of a Blumhouse Television production means rabid attackers funnel through the same in-construction backgrounds without much definition. Centerpiece fight sequences between healthy children and their zombified friends have a lesser Scott Pilgrim vs. The World vibe as the camera zooms tight on faces — negating extensive choreography — while comic book panes separate brawlers. Unhuman is injected with colorful light filters and youthful energy but wobbles as a wonky tonal ride that keeps pushing forward with wholesome-horror intentions.

Don’t expect 28 Days Later or World War Z by intensity standards, even though brats prattle through horror movie references (World War Z included). Bloody splatters aren’t excessive and gruesome elements are hindered when the camera keeps what would be effects-heavy glimpses out of view. The power of Unhuman comes from the realizations children confront, whether that’s ditching their fat-shaming cruelty or evolving past Mean Girls imitations. Horror is used as a serving platter for a cleaner mood-booster aimed at adolescent demographics who will latch onto the preachable harmfulness bullying causes. It’s not exactly on par with George A. Romero’s comparatively subtle social commentary — but sometimes we have to hear truths out loud. Unhuman does a wonderful job winning the audience over in a wounded and twisty third act despite itself scene after scene.

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