By: Addison Wylie
Harmony Korine and his work has always been divided among people. Some people think he has a very beautiful, sometimes disturbing vision while some think he’s an obnoxious brat. I fall into the former category. I’ve always been a big fan of his directorial and his written work. His script he penned for the film KIDS was outstanding and his directorial work in Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Mister Lonely have been original views into the lifestyles of lost souls and people wanting to grasp onto a different take on reality. Mister Lonely, his previous feature, was the most commercially accessible movie he has made and with his most recent Trash Humpers, he returns to that well he’s familiar with and, again, he’ll be split up among audiences; is he being a daring, visionary or a ridiculed director who has lost their mind.
Trash Humpers is a difficult movie to provide a synopsis for. It’s not like Inception where I decided to leave out a synopsis because it’s best knowing very little going into it. With Trash Humpers, an audience member has to know at least one artifact of what they’re in for. The problem is the film doesn’t have a plot; or at least a conventional one. The film follows a group of elderly misfits as they record their behaviour on an old VHS video camera. The narrative of the film comes straight from the camera itself including all the tracking issues and awkward cuts one might find on their own VHS home movies. The film showcases many scenarios that go from being darkly funny to being downright unsettling. One moment, the group of hooligans may be smashing tv’s and tap dancing and then the tape skips to a scene where the elderly woman of the bunch is teaching a young child how to put razorblades into apples. That’s primarily the gist of Korine’s Trash Humpers; dark humor balanced out by disturbing, ambiguous content.
The main feats lie within the technical aesthetics. The film was shot on VHS and was edited using two VCR’s. Anyone who has ever edited tape knows just how difficult that editing procedure is let alone an editing process blown up to this extent. That said, my hat goes off to Leo Scott, the man who edited this beast. Trash Humpers shows that Korine is dedicated to expressing his vision. It shows how patient he is as a filmmaker, placing timing cues throughout his film and requesting tracking errors, and it shows just how far he will go to make a film. It may not hit all the right notes with the majority of the public but he’s making the film he wants to make and I admire that. Let’s talk more about the editing aspects and how essential those little quirks, like the tracking lines, were. The horror elements come to play when the movie is ambiguous. By making the cuts jump around so drastically and by having the quality of the tape be as poor as poor gets, the audience is left in the dark as to the whereabouts of the characters as well as some of their actions. The film is creepy because the audience never knows what these anonymous degenerates will do next and we don’t know where the tape will take us on this journey. Showing something horrifying usually gets a large rise out of some people but for me, having explanations left up to my imagination is always worse and more frightening. By Korine going down this directorial route, he establishes an uneasy mood for the duration of his film. It’s off-putting and creeps me out; all in a good way. It’s also unique and unlike anything I’ve seen purposely down by a filmmaker before.
Korine, who plays a misfit himself in the movie and is usually holding the camera, screeching and singing, while looking through the viewfinder, is also able to convey his vision across to his actors. As jumbled as this movie appears to be, it is clear that everyone is on the same page as Korine. Each actor is vulnerable and is deep within their character. Never during the runtime do you doubt these characters are fake. Korine has always been able to work well with unknown actors and is able to get authentic reactions out of them. In Trash Humpers, the group of misfits meet different individuals who live in Tennessee, where the film takes place. The inhabitants treat these characters like normal people even though the criminals stare awkwardly, chant, and cackle. It brings the film back to that ambiguity element where I start to wonder why these people are talking to these mentally disturbed sociopaths like they are normal, everyday, working people. These cameo parts are played flawlessly and the actors never break character which is very surprising given that the director is deep into character and there is always an element of surprise. The film may not be filled with household names or favourite actors but each part is cast perfectly. The authenticity this experimental film holds is unbelievable.
This review is unlike any review I’ve written thus far. I really hope you, the reader, can pull something out of this. If you’re still unsure about viewing Trash Humpers, I highly suggest reading more reviews or even viewing clips on YouTube; the trailer online does a very good job presenting what a movie goer is in for. It’s an extremely tough film to explain or even promote. I really enjoyed what Korine does with his film, and I really liked it on the whole, but even I feel like I’m not selling it enough as something that you should rush out to see. Let me just say this. If you want a film that is unlike anything you’ve seen, utilizes ways of filmmaking that are not normally used today, if you’re a fan of awkward black humour but are willing to take whatever the film throws at you even though the outcome may be disturbing, then I still suggest you do some “Trash Humpers” research because it still may not be for you.