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Director Caitlin Cronenberg's 'Humane' is a dark comedy about an apocalyptic future

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In the near future, the global environment has collapsed, and the world's governments have agreed that in order to save humanity, 20% of each country's population must be eliminated within a year. In the U.S., a wealthy, retired news anchor tells his adult children that he and their stepmother have volunteered to be euthanized.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HUMANE")

PETER GALLAGHER: (As Charles York) For over three decades, I delivered the evening news, and there was not a week that went by where I was not reporting on some horrific ecological disaster - droughts, floods, wildfires, crumbling glaciers. I remember vividly staring into my monitor the day that the Amazon rainforest burnt out of existence, just gone. And I knew full well that the last thing this planet needed was more people. And what did I do? I had children.

RASCOE: But things don't go as planned, and a family of basically unlikable people have a terrible choice to make. That's the premise of "Humane," Caitlin Cronenberg's first feature-length film. And the director joins us now. Welcome to the program.

CAITLIN CRONENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: This movie, which I have to say outright I really enjoyed...

CRONENBERG: Thank you.

RASCOE: This movie touches, though, on some real challenges facing humanity, like climate change, the exploitation of poor people. How did you make this movie and make sure that it wasn't preachy and wasn't, like, an eat your peas and broccoli type of deal?

CRONENBERG: I think, you know, I started with an excellent script. All of the material was there. And Michael Sparaga wrote the script, and he set the tone for it not being a preachy film. But, you know, I'm very aware of what I am not an expert in, and I am not an expert in climate change. I am not an expert in politics. I wanted to make a film that is entertaining. As you say, I want people to have a good time watching it. And then, you know, if it is thought provoking for audiences, to have people step back and say, maybe I should educate myself a little bit more on what's going on in the world. But it's not my job to do that because that is for the experts to do.

RASCOE: Like, a big theme of this is, like, the idea of sacrifice and who's willing to do it and, like - it's like, at what point are you willing to say, well, let them other people go through that? And all of us can be guilty of that, right?

CRONENBERG: Absolutely. I think it's a very interesting way to look at yourself, as well, and say, Well, you know, the family in the film - they really truly believe that this will never be an issue for them. They think that, this is going on in the world, but this won't be my issue. So we're just going to pretend that this is not happening. And I think that that is something that, unfortunately, is relatable and, obviously, in varying degrees. Sometimes it's, you know, my kid's class has lice. I'm going to just pretend that this is not my problem until it is my problem.

RASCOE: (Laughter). Yeah.

CRONENBERG: But then, of course, you know, this is a much more elevated situation where you really think, what would I do in this situation? And I have to say this is something that I discovered later on when when the trailer for this film came out. The TikTok crowd are all over the trailer, and there is a post with 800,000 comments...

RASCOE: Wow.

CRONENBERG: ...Of TikTok users saying, oh, I would fully enlist. I would join in a second.

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness.

CRONENBERG: Oh, hitting 20% would be no problem. We would do that in a day.

RASCOE: Oh, my gosh.

CRONENBERG: And that is something that really truly surprised me.

RASCOE: Wow. No, that's very interesting. But I wonder, is it - I think, you know, sometimes on the internet, people talk a big game.

CRONENBERG: Oh, yes. Oh, for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

CRONENBERG: Yes.

RASCOE: But, you know, the thing about this movie - even though it's a dark premise, there is comedy to it. The cast is full of actors with comedy experience. You have Jay Baruchel, who was in "Tropic Thunder" and "This Is The End." And Emily Hampshire was Stevie in "Schitt's Creek." And the amazing - oh, my God - Enrico Colantoni. Oh, my goodness. Amazing. And, I mean, he's been in a lot of funny stuff, too. Like, were you looking for people who could kind of walk that line?

CRONENBERG: I mean, the script was definitely funny. It was funny when I read it. But I think finding this cast, putting the cast together and having them be these notably comedic actors who are capable of being incredibly good dramatic actors - but they're often cast for their humorous side. And I think that that was obviously instrumental in creating the tone and really landing on the tone of these characters who are going through this intense experience. But, you know, to me, people are inherently funny and especially when they're faced with some very, very difficult situation. I think a lot of us use humor as a defense mechanism, and that is sort of what comes out in this film.

RASCOE: I mean, now, you know, listeners who are horror fans may have perked up at the name Cronenberg, and you are the daughter of David Cronenberg, the director of the fly and "Scanners" and other, you know, hugely successful classic movies. And in the genre of horror, body horror, do you see this as a horror movie? Like...

CRONENBERG: I don't, no.

RASCOE: You don't.

CRONENBERG: No, it's - you know, I think horror fans going into this should know this going in. It's not a traditional horror movie. I think there are...

RASCOE: It's not scary.

CRONENBERG: It's not scary. No, it's - you know, we don't have jump scares. There are tense moments, but it was never my intention for it to be a horror movie. And I think that because of my family's history with horror movies, it was kind of what was expected of me. And people put that label on it without kind of consulting me or seeing the movie first, which is totally fair. And, you know, of course. But I always sort of positioned it more as a family thriller. That's what I was calling it.

RASCOE: You know, there's all this talk about, you know, nepotism in Hollywood, which is - there's nepotism everywhere. Look, you know?

CRONENBERG: Yeah.

RASCOE: But, like, did you feel a pressure about that? Or do you think about that?

CRONENBERG: I mean, I definitely think about that. You know, it's impossible not to. I think that even in my career as a photographer for the last, you know, 20 years, people have still accused me of only making it to a certain level as a result of nepotism. And I think that unfortunately, it's just part of the job of being a family, you know, of someone who's kind of paved the way.

So the thing is, I'm incredibly proud of my family. I'm just so happy at every moment of their success. I'm thrilled to be, you know, the third. My brother makes films, too - like, the third Cronenberg making films. But obviously, it, you know, can be a little bit frustrating when someone has no idea of all the things that I've done in my career to get here or whatever. But at the end of the day, people are going to think what they want. I hope the film speaks for itself.

And, you know, there are children of people doing things, and it's because you look at your family member making art for a living and enjoying what they do. And you say, I want to love what I do. I want to make art for a living. And that's why so many actors, so many directors and producers have children who are also in the business. You know, I think the world is critical enough. If people think that what I've made is garbage, then I don't get another chance.

RASCOE: That's Caitlin Cronenberg, director of the movie "Humane," out in theaters now. Thank you so much.

CRONENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA'S "SHIN RAMYUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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