Humane (2024) poster

Humane (2024)


Canada/USA. 2024.


Director – Caitlin Cronenberg, Screenplay/Producer – Michael Sparaga, Photography – Douglas Koch, Music – Todor Kobakov, Visual Effects – Torpedo Pictures (Supervisor – Tim M. Townsend), Special Effects – May FX (Supervisor – Mel Ramsay), Prosthetic Makeup – Black Spot FX (Designers – Alexandra Anger & Monica Pavez), Production Design – Brian Garvey. Production Company – Victory Man Productions/Prospero Pictures/Red Jar Capital/XYZ Films/Crave/Telefilm Canada/Ontario Creates.


Jay Baruchel (Jared York), Emily Hampshire (Rachel York), Enrico Colantoni (Bob), Sebstian Chacon (Noah York), Peter Gallagher (Charles York), Sirena Gulamgaus (Mia York), Alanna Bale (Ashley York), Uni Park (Dawn Kim), Blessing Adedijo (Grace), Frankie Francois (Malik), Joel Gagne (Yusif)


It is in the future where Earth is undergoing environmental catastrophe. To counter this, world nations have agreed to reduce populations by twenty percent. Charles York, an aging now retired tv journalist, calls his four children to him for a dinner catered by Charles’s second wife, Japanese restaurateur Dawn. There Charles announces that he has decided to Enlist – undergo voluntary euthanasia. As the family debate the suddenness of the decision and the impact on them, it is discovered that Dawn has fled, unable to go through with enlisting. Bob, the worker from D.O.C.S. (Department of Citizen Strategy), arrives at the door to administer the lethal injection. Charles undergoes the procedure and dies surrounded by his family. Bob then announces to the others that he has a contract to take away a body and they must decide which of them it is going to be. The family are left with two hours before Bob’s next appointment to make a decision who it will be. As they try to do so, vicious in-fighting breaks out between them.

Caitlin Cronenberg is the daughter of David Cronenberg, director of films like Scanners (1981), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996), A History of Violence (2005) and others. She is also the younger sibling of Brandon Cronenberg who has emerged as a worthwhile director of his own with the likes of Antiviral (2002), Possessor (2020) and Infinity Pool (2023).

Prior to taking the director’s chair with Humane, Caitlin Cronenberg had developed a strong career as a fashion photographer, having done noted work as a celebrity and album cover photographer, even portraits for current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Her only directing work before this was in music video. She stated she had no interest in making a film. I’m curious as to what made her decide otherwise. I also wonder if she would have had this abundance of choice about what artistic path to take if she did not come with the pedigree of the Cronenberg name ie. is this such an offer that would be made to any other regular fashion photographer?

Like Brandon and her father, Caitlin heads into genre territory and makes a science-fiction film. Both David and Brandon have made works set in different Future Scenarios – Brandon with Antiviral, David with Crimes of the Future (2022) and arguably Cosmopolis (2012), while you could go back to earlier, really out there works of David’s such as Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970).

Jay Baruchel, Peter Gallagher, Alanna Bale and Enrico Colantoni in Humane (2024)
(l to r) Father Peter Gallagher (c) and children Jay Baruchel and Alanna Bale with D.O.C.S. officer Enrico Colantoni

It is worth comparing the various Cronenbergs and their takes on the future. David’s futures – at least those in Crimes of the Future 2022 and Cosmopolis exist at the periphery of the story. He is disinterested in the sociology of how they came to be, more so about the ideas at play. Instead these films place the focus into the casually littered detail and assumptions that people make about the world they are in. Brandon less so but David in particular creates minimalist futures – Stereo and Crimes of the Future 1970 were shot around University of Toronto and Crimes of the Future 2022 around a series warehouse spaces in Athens, while Cosmopolis merely takes place inside a limousine.

Caitlin follows suit and Humane is a similarly contained film that is almost entirely shot inside a two-storey family home in Hamilton, Ontario. It comes with same littered details that build to a picture of the future – a captivating opening shot that tracks along past people queued up to receive water supplies from a tanker truck to the D.O.D.S. officers carting a body bag away from a house opposite and handing the widower a receipt – that says huge unspoken amounts about the world we are in. There are background shots of people with umbrellas or UV reflective material on the windows of their cars and houses, which is never commented on but effectively suggests a future where the ozone layer has disappeared. Or little references about how some foods that are being served for dinner are now classified as illegal, or to the Asia Crisis resulting in mob hysteria that led to the vandalism of Uni Park’s restaurant.

Mindedly, I did find the whole scenario where the countries of the world agree to euthanize twenty percent of their population far-fetched to say the least – in the USA alone, that would be 66 million people at current population count, in Canada it would be seven million people. When most Western countries have unemployment figures in the single digits, you have to question whether the world would still be able to function with such a drastic reduction of the populace. What would probably make for a fascinating film would be a prequel showing how the countries of the world would manage to come to a consensus on adopting such measures – I mean, they are unable to even agree for five minutes to take measures to reduce carbon emissions – and what would happen if just one country decided “fuck this, we’re not going to engage in mass murder of our population.” And you can guarantee that all it would take would be some populist politician to rise to power on public resentment with such measures by promising to overturn them.

Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire and Alanna Bale in Humane (2024)
Fighing for their lives – (l to r) Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire and Alanna Bale

One criticism you could make of both David and Brandon’s films is that they are not character-driven works, they are more interested in ideas than they are in personal journeys. That is not completely the case – later works by David like Dead Ringers, M. Butterfly (1993) and Spider (2002) delve into dark psychological spaces, The Fly has Jeff Goldblum’s transformation at its centre, while The Brood (1979) was driven by Cronenberg’s personal anger at a divorce. On the other hand, look at films of David’s like Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977). Scanners, Crash, eXistenZ (1999) and Maps to the Stars (2014) and it feels as though the characters are ones that come with little more than names and professions – you could interchangeably swap the characters of any of these films around and it make no difference to the plot.

What is immediately noticeable with Humane is that Caitlin makes a far more character-driven work. The bulk of the film consists of the characters inside the house bitterly fighting and savaging each other for their personal shortcomings. Moreover, Catlin offers one thing that you never see in either of the other Cronenberg’s films – a sense of humour. It is there in David’s films but it is often so dry that it passes over people’s heads. But you could look in vain in either of David or Brandon’s films for anything akin to the scenes like the B plot that goes on here between Enrico Colantoni, who gives a great comic playing, and young sprightly cynical Sirena Gulamgaus as they sit waiting and he playing cards in the van.

Humane represents a promising debut for Caitlin. It is not a perfect film. The opening scenes with the family gathered for dinner and Peter Gallagher announcing his decision don’t do much to engage. It was only when Enrico Colantoni enters the scene, quoting chapter and verse of regulations, that we get what screenwriters call an ‘inciting incident’ and the film is propelled into something desperate. The scenes of people fighting never quite go for the throat with any kind of savagery, you feel like the film could have been tightened in many regards, but it shows promise.

Trailer here

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