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Stars: Eddie McGee, Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Trista Robinson, T. Arthur Cottam, Brianna Lauren Jackson, Fred Coury, B. Anthony Cohen, Noel Britton and J Louis Reid.
Writer/Director: Paul Hough

Rating: 4/5

A thrilling indie-sector vision that trumpets the arrival of a skilled, bold storyteller in writer-director Paul Hough, The Human Race is everything that adult viewers had hoped the similarly themed Hunger Games might have been.

Filled with fine performances, splattery effects and an electrifying out-of-nowhere third-act twist that pushes Hough’s feature debut into instant cult status (and adds a further sly spin on the film’s titular pun), The Human Race gives early notice that the narrative is unlikely to go anywhere one may expect. A singularly uplifting storyline involving cancer survivor Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson) is cut short in spectacularly hideous fashion; from that point, the true nature of Hough’s film becomes apparent.

From a street corner in downtown LA, a group of random citizens experience a blinding light and instantaneously find themselves in what appears to be the exercise pen of an abandoned prison. An omnipresent voice fills their heads with the rules of survival: ‘If you are lapped twice, you die. If you step off the path, you die.’ Everyone is confused, disoriented, but the first glimpse of how fatal a breaching of the rules will be proves motivating. The race is on, and soon both the light and dark nature of mankind is exposed as the desperation to survive escalates.

Hough is fearless in his depiction of the inherent horrors such an event would lead to. Apart from the graphic depiction of cranial explosions and bleeding-out that befalls those that stray from the path or slow to crawl, the director also indulges in nightmarish episodes of rape and murder; one scene involving a heavily pregnant woman will separate hard-core horror-philes from the merely inquisitive.  The cast are all up for anything the director wants to dish out; standouts are real-life amputee Eddie McGee, Fred Coury in a superbly villainous turn and the stunning Trista Robinson.

The script (expanding upon ideas and imagery that Hough introduced in his 2007 short, The Angel) deftly explores the prejudices and hatred that would arise if a cross-section of the ethnically diverse Los Angeles population were put in such a pressure-cooker environment. The British-born filmmaker also examines how the faithful may explain the event (B Anthony Cohen’s character, The Priest, says, “It is purgatory, God directing us to stay on the righteous path”), though such a pat explanation would not suit Hough’s nihilistic vision.

Web denizens are decrying it is too much like the Stephen King short-story The Long Walk or Kinji Fukasau’s Battle Royale, though such comparisons suggest complainers haven’t seen the entire film. It is probably closest in mood to Sydney Pollack’s 1969 dance-marathon drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, reworked as a modern horror-fantasy. Any comparison, however, does a great disservice to the work of an exciting young filmmaker, who has crafted a polished low-budget stunner that should be mandatory programming at any genre festival boasting a commitment to new horror talent. 

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