Turning 30 isn’t easy, I’ve been told. It’s less easy when an alien bent on destroying the planet crashes your party. Directed by Stephen Ohl in his feature-length debut, Useless Humans teaches a comedic lesson that it’s never too late to change, especially when you’re faced with impending doom at the hands of a much meaner E.T. The film stars Josh Zuckerman, Rushi Kota, Davida Williams, Luke Youngblood, and Joey Kern.
Zuckerman plays the lovable screw-up Brian Skaggs, who’s dreams of reaching the stars of space only get him a mediocre job at a planetarium. Turning the big 3-0 and the reality of his less-than-successful life crashing to earth, Brian gets the old gang of friends together at his father’s cabin in the woods. This group includes the highly successful surgeon Louis (Kota), the environmental warrior Jess (Williams) and her cookie-cutter hipster boyfriend Joey (Kern), and lastly, the ever-mysterious and booze-adoring Alex (Youngblood). As the group comes to grips with their adulthood, the truth comes out that their lives are not as picture-perfect as their social media accounts portray. Oh, and there’s a freakin’ ALIEN in the woods, with a weapon of mass destruction that looks cleverly like an Xenomorph egg. It’s now or never for Brian to prove his life has meaning beyond the crummy jobs and social lives that define our species, us…worthless humans.
Useless Humans blends together the wonderfully silly sci-fi films like Forbidden Planet of old with the more recent self-referential horror spoofs like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Ohl never takes the subject matter too seriously, and the laughs are abundant and rarely forced. The costume design for the alien is fantastically over the top, and most importantly, practical, which underlines the love letter Useless Humans writes to the campy sci-fi flicks it embodies. Speaking of campy sci-fi, Matthew James’ score delivers absolutely delicious similarities to the spacey Danny Elfman score from Mars Attacks!, especially the opening credits. Fans of the Tim Burton film won’t be able to contain their smiles.
All of the space vibes aside, the extraterrestrial isn’t really the star of the show, but rather the catalyst for a group of misguided friends to find their path back to happiness. That is, if they can ever get over being total screw-ups. Horror has it’s own place in the film, as the friends are tossed into a family cabin in the secluded woods, their means of escape or rescue taken away, but thankfully, the beer is safe. At least until Alex finds it.
“Useless Humans embraces the “Friday night flick” format that makes for a perfect night on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. “
Like most effective comedies, chemistry is key, and the cast of Useless Humans really bring it to the table. If your school days were anything like mine, you will surely put a face of your own friends to the characters in the film. Each performance personifies a different cliche (the friend-zoned goofball, the party-crazy burnout, etc), which is solid formula considering we are not given much backstory for any of them. Rushi Kota and Luke Youngblood shine as the comedic centerpieces, and Zuckerman simply nails the part of a zany down-on-his-luck good guy looking to break through to something better. Davida Williams expertly guides the group along as the (somewhat) responsible Jess, pushing Brian to stop leaving behind unfinished business, including romantic feelings between the two.
My only real hangups with Useless Humans is the extremely brisk run-time of 77 minutes. While that is plenty of time for the story we are given, the film may have benefited from a few extra minutes of character and plot development, especially that of alien hunters Wendy (Maya Kazan) and Chum (Edy Ganem), and perhaps a further fleshed-out ending. That being said, these are relatively minor issues that don’t drag the finished film down.
In a time where trips to the theatre are out of the question, opportunity arises for small scale films to break through and reach an audience starving for cinema. Useless Humans embraces the “Friday night flick” format that makes for a perfect night on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. While it certainly won’t be the most thought-provoking film you see, it succeeds in what I believe it intends to do- leave you laughing your useless human butt off and pleasantly reminiscing of the campy sci-fi features that came before.