‘The Humans’ Ending, Explained: What Really Lurks Behind The Walls Of The Cramped Manhattan Apartment?


“The Humans” is a psychological drama film directed by Stephen Karam. The film is Karam’s directorial debut work and is based on his own critically acclaimed Tony award-winning eponymous play. 

Set almost wholly inside a cramped and run-down apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown, New York, “The Humans” revolves around the Blake family meeting to celebrate Thanksgiving together, when they are spooked and startled by the excessively loud banging on the walls and ceiling, strange mechanical noises, weird electric failures, and most importantly, by their own human selves. “The Humans” boasts a good script and clever use of cinematic space, and its balance between the two genres of drama and horror stemming from the realm of the psychological makes it an entertaining film to watch.

‘The Humans’ Plot Summary: Can Monsters Be Scared Of Humans?

The film opens on Thanksgiving, as Eric and Deirdre Blake visit their daughter Brigid’s apartment, along with Eric’s severely ill mother, Momo. Brigid has recently moved into the apartment with her boyfriend, Richard. The family is also joined by the younger daughter, Aimee, who is a lawyer in Philadelphia. From the very beginning, Eric and Deirdre find the apartment extremely cramped and run-down, with visible damage on the walls, such as leaky steam pipes, possibly faulty electrical wiring, and doorways and passages too narrow for them to comfortably take around Momo, who is in a wheelchair.

The parents are settled in their own house in Scranton and are used to living in a house of their own as opposed to an apartment in New York. They make their feelings heard as well, and sound disappointed that both their daughters decided to not just move out of the house but also to different states and cities. The guests are also surprised by very loud thudding noises from the ceiling as well as the walls, but Brigid makes it known that it is just the elderly neighbor upstairs and that noises do travel very loudly inside her apartment. All the members go around to the various rooms and corners of the apartment, making the space as well as the characters gradually explored and exposed to the audience. 

All except Momo, who severely suffers from Alzheimer’s and is restricted to a wheelchair. The family prepares for Thanksgiving dinner, catches up with each other, and gets to know Richard, whom they are most likely meeting for the first time. It is Richard who tells the Blakes about a comic book called Quasar, in which the monsters on an alien planet tell each other stories of horror about the mannerisms and actions of human beings. Strange things (but also quite regular) seem to keep happening throughout the entire afternoon and evening—a coat slips down from its peg, Momo’s wheelchair moves backward on its own, doors creak and move by themselves, and the light bulbs keep going out one after the other. Tied in with this physical and noisy horror are the revelations that the family members make, one after the other, about themselves. The final one, about Eric’s financial worries and the reasons behind them, breaks the family apart and takes “The Humans” towards its scary climax.

The Blakes: Just A Normal Family Gathering For Dinner?

The Blakes and their defining secrets, and their subsequent revelation, make up the crux of the drama in “The Humans.” Brigid, who plays the host on this particular evening, is a musician who is keen on impressing her parents with her new apartment. Her revelation is indeed the least concerning to the family—it is that she has been having a difficult time trying to find grants and jobs to take her interest in music forward, towards an academic role. It is her relationship with her parents that becomes central with regard to her character. Both Eric and Deirdre had been tough on her with respect to her choices in career and education, specifically Eric, who even now mentions that she could have done better with a state university rather than a costly private institution. Aimee is seen visiting the toilet quite a few times, where she checks her phone for some texts. She is the first to disclose something new about herself to her family, and she is very close to losing her job.

Aimee suffers from a serious intestinal ailment, and her breakup with her girlfriend in the recent past makes her have a terrible breakdown in front of her father, who tries to comfort her. She also confides, only to her sister, that her ailment has been getting worse and that she will have to get operated on for it very soon. Deirdre is the one who does not really reveal anything to her family, but her exposition is mostly to the audience. Deeply involved in Christian religion and the practices of the Church, her (along with her husband’s) biggest problem with her daughters is that they are moving away from religion. Although she tries hard to connect with them as adults, deep down she may still have problems accepting them as they are.

In turn, she is made fun of and ridiculed for her faith as well as actions by her daughters behind her back, for which she is immensely hurt every time. Despite being the one with the most faith in the divine, it is Deirdre who is spooked multiple times by the weird happenings in the apartment. Eric, from the very beginning, seems most terrified by the walls, pipes, and wiring in the apartment, almost to the point of seeming snobbish.

But his frequent stares outside the window, standing by himself, suggest that he is troubled by something. Finally, he reveals to his two daughters the dire financial strain that he is in, which has made him sell off his lake house and also consider selling off their residential house and moving into a smaller apartment. The reason for this is even more shocking, as he reveals that he had been fired from his job at a Catholic school for having an affair with one of the teachers behind his wife’s back.

‘The Humans’ Ending Explained: Was It All In Their Heads?

Midway through the evening, Eric had shared about his haunting dreams where he would see a woman who had skin in place of her eyes, nose, and mouth turn towards him. Despite his wife and daughters making fun of him, he was incredibly terrified by the idea and imagery of it. Much later after dinner when he shares his secret with his daughters one thing leads to the other and the family has a fallout. Brigid runs off to the terrace where she has an emotional breakdown, and Richard follows her. Aimee leaves to take a walk around the corner and also to get her parents a ride home. Deirdre leaves with Momo in her wheelchair, and Eric is left alone to gather a few things when suddenly the lights of the basement floor go out, leaving the apartment in complete darkness. 

As he goes around with a portable lamp, he sees a shadow move past the window (something that he had noticed throughout the day), and then sees patches of the wall get more pumped and distorted by leaking pipes, as if some monster is going to burst out of them. Expecting to see some horrible monstrosity come and devour him through the open doorway, but he only sees an old Chinese lady (the neighbor that Brigid had mentioned) walking past. Terrified nonetheless, Eric sits and prays in a shocked stupor, and then, once Aimee comes back, gathers his courage to leave the apartment.

The ending definitely confirms that the entire plot of horror was inside the minds of the characters. Particularly Eric and Deirdre, who are the only ones seen to get spooked, are possibly scared by not just the apartment but the whole lifestyle. Used to have a house of one’s own and the rights and privileges that follow, the fact that neighbors can get noisy and that people manage to stay in small apartments in New York, which might be a bit run-down, are all elements of horror to them. But despite not leaving too much up for speculation by the end, it is the film’s great presentation of events and the gradual build-up of the characters that makes “The Humans” quite an interesting and entertaining piece to watch. With the adeptly written characters and their unusual revelations of quite usual secrets, it is not too hard to think of a world where monsters are indeed scared of us humans.

“The Humans” is a 2021  psychological drama film directed by Stephen Karam.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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