As the newest film in an eight-picture tv-movie partnership between EPIX and Blumhouse Television, Unhuman proudly opens with a title card claiming it a “Blumhouse Afterschool Special”. The film proudly leans in to this special descriptor, tossing in a teen morality tale that makes Unhuman more than just your typical zombie fare.
Unhuman follows a group of students on a high school field trip gone horrifically awry. Their bus is derailed en route and the scrappy blend of misfits and popular kids must set their differences aside to band together against a growing gang of unhuman savages.
At first glance, the film seems to be set in the late 90s. But then someone pulls out an iPhone and you realize fashion is cyclical and the whole setting of the film kind of record-scratches while you realize you’re just an elder millennial making wild assumptions.
Starring Brianne Tju (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Benjamin Wadsworth (Your Honor), Uriah Shelton (Freaky), and Ali Gallo (The Sex Lives of College Girls), Unhuman shows the stereotypical teen archetypes we’re well familiar with. The colors and pieces used in the costume design make their personalities and roles immediately recognizable. It’s The Breakfast Club for Gen Z teens who like a bit of blood in their coming-of-age comedies.
Unhuman is a teen scream for the modern age. With themes that touch on bullying, the true value and heartbreak of friendship, and toxic entitlement, the Afterschool Special descriptor actually works well here. It addresses the more predictable elephant in the room and adds a bit of a satirical element.
Directed by Marcus Dunstan (The Collector trilogy) and written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton (the writing duo behind Feast and Saw IV through VI), the teen horror treads familiar ground, but allows it to derail itself and – in doing so – becomes a more interesting film that offers a deeper conversation.
Dunstan and Melton really focus on the bullying element as a learned lesson. But – more importantly – they address the lasting long term effects of bullying, and how this can manifest in even more dangerous ways.
There is a great deal of hope and heart in the film. With a final voiceover that feels straight out of a John Hughes film, Unhuman finds the friends we made along the way. It opens itself up to the complexities of personality; who we think we are and who we try to be, and how that doesn’t always line up with how we present ourselves to others.
Like any good teen-driven story, Unhuman has an optimistic core that leads the way to self-discovery. Personal assessments are guided by violent acts, and acceptance is born from the wreckage.
The anti-bullying message does get a bit muddled by the numerous (successful) attempts to humanize the bullies, but it adds an empathetic and surprisingly modern element to Unhuman that goes beyond the stock stereotypes that can be found in some 80s horror. Parts of it can feel very kumbaya-around-the-campfire, but let’s be honest, in a world that can be dark and isolating, it’s kind of nice to see that glow.
Tonally, it’s not quite as strong as Dunstan’s other work. But as an afterschool special, Unhuman hits its teen target. It’s a cheeky, bloody brawl with a stylized punch. Teen horror fans deserve that kind of easily accessible mayhem.
Unhuman will be available On Digital June 3 on Paramount Home Entertainment. Stay tuned for my interview with co-writer and director Marcus Dunstan.