Karam drops breadcrumbs to establish the Blake family, using Richard as a easy excuse to deliver exposition, since he’s the prospective new member and an outsider in more ways that one (he’s Korean-American and seemingly more intellectual and introspective than all of the Blakes save for Brigid). The Blake family hails from Scranton and remains connected to (it appears) a fundamentalist church. Grandma Momo, who is in a wheelchair and suffers from dementia, appears to have been a devout and once-formidable congregational figure. Deidre seems to have absorbed many of her mother’s reactionary cultural attitudes even though she does a bad job of pretending to be more enlightened. She keeps making remarks about Aimee, a lesbian, that are no less hurtful for being passive-aggressive. She also apparently texts Aimee whenever there’s awful news about a lesbian—most recently the story of a daughter of a family friend who died from suicide.
Brigid gets grief over having left the family stomping grounds and resettled in New York for college. There are lingering feelings of rejection in the way the Blake parents interact with Brigid on what ought be her day to be in charge and play party hostess. Both parents ridicule and diminish the apartment, which looks gorgeous and immense to this adoptive New Yorker (though I guess it seems bad if you’re a homeowner from Scranton?). Erik jabs at Brigid for having chosen a financially draining private college over a state school, and there’s a subtext of white, middle-class discomfort in some of the interactions between Richard and the Blakes, no matter how hard they try to seem accepting. And it’s clear from the start that Erik, a former Scranton school janitor, is sitting on a shameful secret.
After the first few minutes, audiences might be forgiven for thinking, “this is a lot like other stories of its type, only slower and artier.” But give it time and try to lean into the style. “The Humans” feels strikingly different from other movies in this vein, thanks to the way it’s written (elliptically and subtly, dancing around the obvious) and, even more so, the way it’s directed. There are no monsters, ghosts or demons, yet every frame feels haunted thanks to how Karam, cinematographer Lol Crawley, and editor Nick Houy unveil and inspect the setting, a pre-World War II, almost lightless “interior courtyard” apartment with scuffed hardwood floors, stained and cracked walls, and a counterintuitive layout.