FANTASTIC FEST '11: Critic's Notebook

FANTASTIC FEST '11: Critic's Notebook

by Steve Dollar

The Human Centipede 2 at Fantastic Fest

Chaos reigns, as they say. And when it reigns it pours at Fantastic Fest. Austin's other major film festival brings the crazy every September, with a transglobal genre eruption that runs the gamut from "action" to "zombie," and a high volume both of fanboy geeking and hardcore cinephilia. What other festival could have first visited The Human Centipede upon American shores, then gone on to award it the prize for best film? Natch, the inevitable sequel premiered as the big opening night attraction as the fest launched its seventh edition Thursday, heralded by a pre-show dance number led by FF Superfan Elijah Wood and a three-man power-eating contest involving a culinary concoction described as "poo sausage."

The Human Centipede 2

Nothing if not inspirational, the original THC was classic exploitation. As much a brilliant, silly, transgressive marketing concept as a film, it quickly generated a porn parody and a South Park shout-out, DIY human centipede chains at pool parties, fan-made tattoos and art pieces, and endless viral meme-gasms and bad jokes. Yet, the actual movie was a sufficiently creepy exercise in biological freakout thanks to director Tom Six's focus on psychology and a chilling lead performance by German character actor Dieter Laser as the diabolical Dr. Heiter. Six's inevitable if implausible sequel takes off from another clever premise: what if one of the first film's obsessed fans took things to the next level? The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) starts there, going ass-to-meta with a new, startling found object as its focus: Martin (the extremely game Laurence Harvey, a former UK children's TV host). A morbidly obese security guard at a parking garage, Martin spends his days literally drooling over repeat viewings of the movie on his battered laptop, pausing only to masturbate with scraps of sandpaper. Life at home is an Eraserhead parody. His aged and hysterically wrung-out mother is besieged by homicidal/suicidal fixations and has no apparent remorse for the childhood sexual abuse Martin suffered?the cruel, demented echo of his father's voice forever ringing in his deformed little ears.

The Human Centipede 2

John Waters couldn't have done it any greasier, as the camera serves up profuse shots of Martin's zeppelin-sized belly and ever-moist gob, his literal shithole of a London flat evoking the claustrophobia of Repulsion and the queasiness of Freaks in Six's highly subjective black-and-white. The dark comedy (?) stands on its own as genuine exercise in the grotesque, but there's that damn human centipede to build, and the movie all-too-dutifully goes about detailing how Martin bags his victims (hot babes, mostly, subdued with a tire iron), and deposits them in a dank warehouse where they wriggle and whine, muted by duct tape. The big selling point of the sequel has been the promise of the explicit gore and depravity that was mostly absent in the original movie. It's "100% Medically Inaccurate!" this time, since Martin has no clue what he's doing, creating a bold new centipede?bigger, longer, uncut?using a staple gun, a hammer and other crude tools between wheezing puffs on his asthma inhaler. It is increasingly nasty to watch, escalating from one gross-out to the next before it hits the jackpot (take that, A Serbian Film!), the monochrome palette lending a '70s-style grime to the various oozing body fluids (although there is a burst of color at a predictably disgusting moment). But the story, as such, never evolves out of its funhouse mirror effect, even with the pretty good inside joke of having THC star Ashlynn Yennie return as herself, lured to Martin's lair on the premise of an audition for a new Quentin Tarantino film. Even if Six, as was revealed in a post-screening Q&A, cast his villain by asking him to "rape a chair," he?s a compassionate director. The fake feces splattered across the screen was delicious, several of the comely cast members agreed. The secret ingredients (for those of you playing at home): rice milk, soy milk, chocolate powder and ginger biscuits ("for texture").


I?d argue that the more transgressive film is Clown, a Danish comedy adapted from a long-running TV series that takes the men behaving badly scheme so popular in dreadful franchises like The Hangover and actually, you know, makes it funny. Frank (Frank Hvam) is a milquetoast who needs to impress his newly pregnant girlfriend that he can be a good father, or else she's going to get an abortion. His ill-fated solution (after a series of absurd mishaps put him deeper in the doghouse) is to take Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen), her 12-year-old son, on a canoe trip with his best friend Caspar (Casper Christensen). Trouble is, its Caspar's annual "Tour de Pussy," an outward bound adventure to a one-night-only riverside whorehorse and carnival. There's no room for a kid on this field trip, especially the chubby and insecure Bo, whose lack of a masculine figure in his life is so dire that he has yet to learn how to pee standing up.

Dick jokes abound, of course, as Frank's good-natured intentions lead to hysterical social disasters and Caspar's insistent horniness compounds them (or vice-versa), the plot veering from one epic cringe to the next, with a surplus of gratuitous nudity, creepy-pervy punchlines and shock tactics that make the Farrelly Brothers appear meek. It works beautifully, because there's an oddly kindhearted message underneath the mayhem, and because said mayhem never stops. Every seemingly happy resolution sets up the next catastrophe.

Sleepless Night

Fatherhood is likewise the motor for Sleepless Night, a French thriller that stars Euro action hunk Tomer Sisley as Vincent, a crooked Parisian cop who hijacks a big drug deal and makes off with a lucrative tote bag of cocaine, only to have the young son he neglects kidnapped by a local gangster who wants his stash back. Already slated for a Hollywood remake (paging Liam Neeson), the film's calling card is its relentless action. It never stops. Director Fr�d�ric Jardin situates everything in a sprawling nightclub that becomes a kind of rat's maze for Vincent, as he tries to rescue his son while being chased by or chasing the mob boss who owns the joint, the drug dealers who bought the cocaine, the good cop who wants to bust him and the even more corrupt cop who wants to kill him, and everyone else he's pissed off, which he manages to do constantly. And, oh yeah, he's slowly bleeding to death from a stab wound suffered in the heist. Sisley's vigorous momentum and the often intricate stagings call to mind the razzle-dazzle of Paul Greengrass' Bourne movies, but with a fragile protagonist who keeps fucking everything up. If he was James Bond, then Dr. Evil would have blown up the moon already. In this construction, though, the bad guys are equally inept, and a packed disco floor makes everything way complicated?and supplies an excuse to frame a contender for the year's best chase sequence, set in the middle of a Eurotrash line dance to "Another One Bites the Dust."

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Posted by ahillis at September 24, 2011 12:23 PM

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