Posted on Sunday, March 14th, 2010 by Hunter Stephenson
It’s a crazy, mixed up world and we are thankful for movies that offer proof. Slashfilm’s Weekend Weirdness examines such flicks, whether in the form of a SXSW premiere for a provocative indie, a mini review or an interview. We just heard Robert Pattinson dies from being inside the WTC on 9/11 in his new classic Remember Me. Please email screengrabs.
Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers has more in common with the irreverent filmmaker’s chicken-scratch collage book The Collected Fanzines than with his 2007 narrative Mister Lonely. Since it premiered unexpectedly at last year’s TIFF, speculation has persisted over whether or not Humpers contains anything resembling a traditional plot. The answer is a “no” complimented with beer-aided flatulence and the shattering of florescent light tubes. There is less plot and character development here than in the director’s experimental masterwork on fly-over-state human waste, Gummo. And stylistically, Humpers is less documentary-cum-social study and more like a nasty but minor freak-flag ode to “found” aesthetic; a film made to look like a VHS tape recorded by three giddy old people with destructive, and eventually murderous, tendencies.
A good portion of the film is dedicated to literal depictions of the title performed by the aforementioned female and two male degenerates. These perverse, recreational acts—it’s like graffiti or skateboarding to them—are shot under small town Tennessee street lights, bridges, and parking lots, in the morning and at sunset. On one occasion, the act of trash humping is filmed near a dewy soccer field, a setting familiar to any suburbia. The faces of the three characters, or “Humpers,” are severely wrinkled and weathered; the viewer is never fully convinced they are not supposed to be wearing masks and prosthetics. They might as well sit on a branch protruding from Leatherface’s family tree.
Korine has said Humpers was originally conceived as a video tape that he planned to anonymously put in mail boxes and submit to a police headquarters. During my screening the common media warning “For Review Purposes Only” was ever-present atop the images, accidentally lending the context of a clinical, more urgent viewing. I began to imagine the footage as seen through the eyes of supervisors at a mental ward; or by the parents’ of a recently abducted child after the tape was suspiciously dropped through an inactive doggy door in their kitchen. But the goal of the film is not to convince the viewer of a reality-based deranged authenticity. It never falls into the niche of virally marketed “found footage” synonymous with films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity; it exists most of all to cushion Korine’s legacy and keep his vision fucked up, if not as wholly unpredictable as longtime fans might hope. We may have reached the point where “vintage Korine” is appropriate.
Watered-down dollar store dish soap is squirted by an acquaintance of the Humpers onto a plate of undercooked pancakes. In a dark room littered with passed-out weirdos all over the floor, a man professes the benefits of not having a head. A baby doll is dragged by a cheap bicycle down a side walk. Another baby doll is beaten by a middle schooler with a hammer. A real man is brought home, killed with a hammer and left on the floor in a puddle of his blood to much amusement around the room. One of the male Humpers, played by Korine it turns out, has the asthmatic snicker of a nightmarish hick and it is heard countless times. A cackle to endorse would-be retiree hell-raising. Repetition is used in several scenes until the film’s obnoxious quality and appreciation of broken or stunted mental processes is stashed in an attic of permanent memory. It makes entertainment out of the half-remembered faces of the men in a van who said, “Want some candy?” to a kid before he walked backward and broke into a sprint.
Another character keeps saying, “Make it, make it, don’t fake it. Make it, make it, don’t fake it,” over and over and again and again with violent excitement, a Southern drawl, and plenty of spittle. The words tap into an urge for encouraging repetitive and mindless primal behavior—similar to watching a flea-infested dog scratch itself, finally shrugging and cheering it on.
Running nearly an hour and 20 minutes, I fully admit, unlike Korine’s other works, the film could benefit from the shaving of a half-hour. I don’t really need to recommend or not recommend the film because if 40 people know it exists and one sees it, that’s enough. Trash Humpers is really more blunt object than movie and not because Korine says it’s “not really a movie.” It’s an ugly stick thrown at the marketplace and cast aside, and only later noticed because a fleshy substance dangles off it. If Brendan Fraser decides to get a closer look and falls on it, dandy, but Korine’s breather is still a putrid wheeze.
Trash Humpers is currently playing at SXSW. Its final screening of the festival is on Tuesday, March 16th. For more info, here.
For previous installments of Weekend Weirdness, here.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached on Twitter. If you’d like to send him a screener, or a screening invitation: h.attila/gmail.