I Don’t Dream Rainbows All the Time:
The Human Race
It’s a bit of a curiosity, all right; but Paul Hough’s debut feature The Human Race is an interesting one.
A blinding bright white light envelopes a group of around eighty people on a city street and when they open their eyes again they are in some sort of nondescript, but run-down, prison area. That’s what it looks like, anyway. The setting is relatively unimportant except that it’s sparse and that these very unwilling participants in an event they don’t understand have to start running around the grounds— and heaven help them if they stop.
In their heads they hear their own voices intoning in their own languages a grim, unbending litany:
Only one will win.
The school, the house and the prison are safe.
Follow the arrows or you will die. Stay on the path or you will die. If you are lapped twice you will die. Do not touch the grass or you will die.
And as one young girl stumbles onto the grass we discover that whoever is behind this macabre set-up isn’t kidding around. Her veins swell up and her head explodes in a fountain of blood and brains.
The ‘contestants’ are pretty much the same as you would expect to catch if you cast your net in any busy city street. There are strong and weak, young and old, the healthy and the frail. In particular, the physically disadvantaged are represented by a deaf man and woman (T. Arthur Cottom and Trista Robinson) and a one-legged ex-marine called Eddie, played with astonishing athleticism by real life amputee Eddie McGee. With Eddie is Justin (Paul McCarthy-Boyington), whom he has served with in Afghanistan.
What’s Your Life Worth?
Writer and Director Paul Hough sets out his ideas right in his film’s false-start prologue; and bleak ones they are. It is made very bloody clear that there’s not much point in getting to like any of the characters too much. This isn’t the deck of the Enterprise, Jim: absolutely anyone can die. It doesn’t matter how valiantly they struggle, how bravely they act, how valorous or craven and cowardly they are, it’s pretty certain that they are going to die a horrible death.
Make no mistake about it; this is a very nihilistic film. And say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Donny, at least it’s an ethos. Nihilists believe in nothing! Nothing!
Sorry, I was watching The Big Lebowski again there recently. Where was I?
Oh yeah…I found that Hough’s screenplay has an attitude to religion that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “Why is He doing this to us?” asks one runner, whilst the deaf lady is thankful to God that she got to hear something in her life, even if it was just her own voice droning a set of death-sentence instructions. There is a Muslim doing his praying-to-Allah bit only to be told that his lot are probably responsible for the whole thing. (Yes, I confess I laughed.) And then there’s the Priest, played by B. Anthony Cole… oh man, it would be just God’s sense of humour to lumber me shackled to this sanctimonious windbag. After rambling on about God’s white light, he begins to come to a smug rationalization—well, rational according to the odd thinking of clergymen:
“Those who find themselves in Purgatory must walk the narrow path to Heaven. He’s testing us. Stay on the Path and don’t give into temptation. God makes a journey for all of us.” Oh shut up, Father, until you have something of use to contribute.
I said at the beginning of this little review that The Human Race is a bit of a curiosity. Well, I think so anyway. I know that it’s been compared to something called Battle Royale, but here I have to put my hands up, blush prettily and admit that not only have I not seen that one, I hadn’t even heard of it. Sorry.
To me, this was much more like one of those horror-cum-science fiction gems that we used to see so much of in the eighties; you know, stuff like Tremors or Trancers. It’s rough-and-ready and the special effects are of that grungy kind. Think of the exploding heads in David Cronenberg’s Scanners and then multiply by about twenty.
So what’s it really about? Hell, I suppose that I could be a smart-alec and say that it’s a metaphor for life, what with its dodgy, unfair rules and all that; but what it really is probably amounts to an entertaining little movie with a lot of twists that, at an hour and twenty-five minutes, doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. It may, however, cross the line with some when sexual violence is introduced, not to mention a really horrible scene involving a pregnant woman. “I just don’t dream rainbows all the time”, reflects one character. I’ve a feeling that may reflect the writer’s views.
I like it when I come across a first-time filmmaker and feel that I’m in at the beginning of something. Now I didn’t get the feeling of Jesus Christ I’m watching a fucking masterpiece that I got with Gareth Edwards’s debut Monsters in 2010. Of course I didn’t: that film really is out on its own, iffy geography and all; but on the evidence of The Human Race I’m reasonably sure that we can expect some interesting future projects from Paul Hough.