I loved The Man From Earth. The 2007 sci-fi drama is a brilliant film about John, an alleged immortal man confessing his life story to his collegial friends who happen to be experts in a variety of fields conveniently there to somewhat antagonistically poke holes in his story. The film was expertly vague about John’s honesty with the exception of one instance that still could have been fabricated and faked. It was fun to want to believe John’s story but also try and disprove it. Now, ten years later we get The Man From Earth: Holocene, a sequel that is quite enjoyable, but admittedly not as strong as the first classic film. It’s incredibly hard to review a follow-up and not have your feelings tied to the first one, especially if you consider the original film to be borderline masterful. There’s a fine balance between wanting more of the same and needing the story’s direction and characters to change and evolve. For the most part, The Man From Earth: Holocene handles that delicate balance with grace and the issues I have are minor and mostly just reference back to my enjoyment of the first film.
“It forces you to ponder on theology and man’s place in the universe much like its beloved predecessor…”
David Lee Smith returns as John Oldman, now an instructor in Northern California. John is in a seemingly committed relationship with Carolyn, played by Vanessa Williams. For the first time in his impossibly long life, he’s showing signs of aging and his healing factor is significantly slower. Meanwhile, three pesky and inquisitive students figure out John’s secret and investigate the validity of it all. Isabelle, Philip, and Tara (played by Akemi Look, Sterling Knight, and Brittany Curran respectively) are fine in their roles. Brittany Curran is especially great in her role as Tara, however, she has a really weak subplot that has her trying to seduce John that seems kind of pointless and a bit creepy. Isabelle is a Buddhist hippie that kind of leads the group in their sleuthing about, and Philip is the group’s staunch Christian that believes John’s immortality and life experiences are tremendously blasphemous. Giving away anything else would be detrimental to the viewing experience, this film has its fair share of unbelievably clever twists and turns. It forces you to ponder on theology and man’s place in the universe much like its beloved predecessor, while also expanding upon John’s nomadic lifestyle and personal beliefs.
While the younger cast members are all competent in their roles, their characters are a tad bit too meddlesome in my opinion. Their relationship to John isn’t as strong as I would have liked, they just seem like a bunch of kids he has no ties with outside of his classroom. There’s not that undeniable camaraderie between John and the students like there was with the instructors from the first film. David Lee Smith does another fantastic job with the character, especially in his scenes with Sterling Knight. There’s an incredibly tense scene involving the two in “discussion” of theology and John’s existence. While the first one perfectly balanced John’s story with a healthy and expected dose of skepticism, most of the characters in The Man From Earth: Holocene willfully believe in John’s immortality with very little convincing. Even a skeptical character from the first film now seems uncharacteristically convinced. With the healing factor fading and John’s sudden aging, it would have been wonderful to see someone call bullshit on him. After all these years, conveniently he’s starting to age and scar? Isn’t that a little too convenient? Sadly, the film doesn’t dive into this as well as I would have liked for it to be explored, and we’re left with John’s story and extraordinary abilities as fairly established narrative fact. I would have much preferred the film to give me the option to come to my own conclusions on John and have it a little less evident. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions that are thankfully left vague, like is John’s condition a sign of divinity or merely a biological anomaly that is now going wonky? Is John meant to be more than just an academic instructor? These themes are touched upon, but never blatantly spelled out.
“…this film has its fair share of unbelievably clever twists and turns.”
Despite my small gripes, I really did enjoy The Man From Earth: Holocene quite a bit thanks to its strong lead actor and its mythology building. I wish it was heavier with the mystery and intrigue like the first film, but this series is going in a new direction and I can respect and admire that. There does seem to be plans for future films and the hints and teases they drop here have my interest quite piqued. If you’re a fan of the first film, and I do suggest you check it out, there’s a ton in this sequel I’m sure you’ll love too.
The Man From Earth: Holocene (2017) Directed by: Richard Schenkman. Written by: Emerson Bixby, Eric D. Wilkinson, and Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, Vanessa Williams, William Kat, Michael Dorn, Sterling Knight, Brittany Curran, Akemi Look.
8 out of 10