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Sundance 2021 Review: 'Human Factors' is a quiet family drama

Have you seen Max's rat?

Jan (Mark Waschke) and Nina (Sabine Timoteo) in 'Human Factors.'
(Image: © Sundance)

Our Verdict

'Human Factors' is an emotional family drama that's not quite sure what it's trying to say.

For

  • 🐀Solid performances throughout.
  • 🐀Lots of greens!

Against

  • 🐀Not at all what it says on the tin.
  • 🐀Overlong.
  • 🐀The slow narrative will leave many viewers bored.

Human Factors is part of our Sundance 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Ronny Trocker’s Human Factors sets the stage for an interesting film. Jan (Mark Waschke) and Nina (Sabine Timoteo) run a small advertising firm in the city and live a relatively happy middle-class life with their two kids Emma (Jule Hermann) and Max (Wanja Valentin Kube). Tremors start to run through their happy suburban lives when Jan works with a political group behind Nina’s back despite knowing full well that she’ll be against the decision. Even worse, she finds out from a magazine rather than her husband. As we’re learning all of this, we see plenty of opportunities for the film to say something. It just never really gets there.

In its first thirty minutes, Human Factors seems to set itself up as a politically motivated home invasion thriller. By the end, we realize that isn’t at all what the film is going for. Acknowledging that right out the gate might help your enjoyment of it, but it doesn’t save the film from the fact that it feels like two unsatisfying halves of separate movies. Spooks in masks and “terrorist” attacks run in conjunction with a couple just trying to keep their family together. There’s nothing wrong with either aspect, or with them running in tandem with one another if done right, but a lack of execution stops anything from the film from being a satisfying narrative. Which is unfortunate, given the fact that there’s a solid twenty minutes that could easily be trimmed off.

All throughout the story, we see commentary on immigrants. The news calls out those with foreign sounding names, the political party Jan is trying to work for is clearly anti-immigration, and the police are quick to assume that the burglars who break into the family’s home are foreigners despite no one saying anything of the sort. But, even with the frequent acknowledgement of anti-immigrant mentalities, those mindsets are never confronted by the film. The issue is used as a set dressing rather than as an introduction to any kind of meaningful dialogue.

While the film feels like it’s largely unsure what it wants to say about politics or complex familial relationships, there are some things to love here. Human Factors showcases some solid acting from its whole cast, whether it be fear, joy or the strong emotional reactions to the difficult situations the family has found themselves in. Though there are a couple odd editing choices, the film is quite capably shot with lots of good greens throughout the story. Bonus: there is a pretty cute rat in the beginning.

Though Human Factors wasn’t for me, there is an audience for this one. If you’re looking for a slow, emotional, human drama, this will probably be right up your alley. It’s filled to the brim with quiet moments, rather than the huge explosions you see in a lot of American dramas—which does work out in its favor. Its early set-up might hobble it in the beginning, but those who know what they’re getting into will likely have an alright time with the story.