Despite visual and thematic echoes from many other sci-fi thrillers — the "Hunger Games" movies, the Japanese action hit "Battle Royale," even David Cronenberg's "Scanners" — writer-director Paul Hough's low-budget, high-energy "The Human Race" carves its own eerie, provocative niche. Enjoyment of the film, however, may depend on one's tolerance for extreme blood spattering and loosey-goosey plotting.
The movie's dystopian conceit finds 80 diverse people transported en masse — via a mysterious white light — from a city street to a kind of circular obstacle course connected by a prison, a house and a school. They are then informed, by voices in their heads (just go with it), of the unforgiving rules of what will become a particularly nasty game.
A horrific foot chase ensues in which it's "fight or die," especially if you are lapped twice — passed more than once by the same competitor. It takes a bit for the participants, who include a pair of veterans of the war in Afghanistan (Paul McCarthy-Boyington and real-life amputee Eddie McGee), two deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T. Arthur Cottam) and an aggressive cyclist (Fred Coury) to understand the battle's strangely imposed parameters. For some, by the time they do grasp said rules, it's already too late.
Because only one person can ultimately survive, man's basest instincts often take hold, with the countdown to death moving fast and furiously. On display: plenty of noisy, brutal violence, including a shockingly messy string of exploding heads. There's also an intriguing third-act reveal.
Though the dialogue is pretty basic and the narrative dots don't always quite connect, "The Human Race," in its own gutsy, grindhouse-movie way, manages style, vision and tension.
"The Human Race."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.