Review: 'Human Centipede II' piles on the gross with very little wit
Here's the thing about the "Human Centipede" movies: when you hear the premise of the films, that moment of "oh, gross, really?" is about as strong an impact as the films will ever have.
The first film is really all about the art of the misdirect. You hear the set-up and you dread the experience of actually seeing what it's about, and then when you do see it, it's fairly tame. Things are suggested. It's terrifying in concept more than execution. I didn't care for the first film, but I respect the way it's put together and the general filmmaking skills. Tom Six had a good sense of how to make you feel like you were going to see the end of the world, and the whole thing is so blatantly gleeful about being childish and ridiculous that it's hard to be upset by it. I would never call the first film a good film, but it's a well-made film that I don't think is interesting. It's not worthless. It's not trash. It's just provocation with no weight behind it, and it left me cold.
When they announced that "Human Centipede 2" was the opening night movie this year, I had a moment's hesitation. I did not see the first one with a crowd, and I was glad. It is a ugly experience, emotionally speaking, and I did not really like the idea of sitting through it with a bunch of people all revved up for the sort of manic energy that most festivals try to open with. I wasn't sure what to make of the decision by the BBFC in June of this year to reject the film for classification, making it illegal to sell the film in the UK at all. If you want to get complete spoilers for the film, in detail, with language that I would not be comfortable using here at HitFix, you can read the rejection notification that the BBFC posted. That article makes it sound like Six went crazy between movies, like he made something genuinely dangerous this time. That article gives the film power before you see it.
That's what Six does best. He makes films that gain power when they are described to someone, but at least with this second one, I think it's a big fat cheap shot of a movie. It's just one note, struck over and over and over, and while Six proves with his intentional shift of aesthetic from one film to the other that he has a good grasp of the technical side of things, he's a plodding bore of a writer. This movie is obvious. That's the worst thing I can say about it. It's obvious. It makes some big choices up front that set up what you're going to see, and then it plays those choices over and over and over.
And if you've noticed, I've talked around the core idea for this entire review. I'm not being coy, either. I just find it ridiculous. The first film was about Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a mad scientist who kidnaps three young people and then surgically grafts them together, mouth-to-anus, in a chain of misery. It had a bleak and quiet ending, and was pretty much a long fuse and then a blunt-edged payoff. This film begins with the ending of that first film again, and then the credits begin to roll…
… and we realize we're watching the end of the film on the screen of a laptop, credits and all. "The Human Centipede" is a movie directed by Tom Six, and the guy watching it is Martin, a security guard for a quiet London underground parking structure. He's watching it again. Pretty quickly, it's clear that Martin watches it a lot. Martin is this toad of a guy, a cartoon frog, sweaty and gross and shot in an unforgiving close-up, most likely an idiot, living with his bizarre psychotic dishrag of a mother, and he watches "The Human Centipede" over and over and over and he fantasizes about doing everything in it for real. But not to three people… twelve. He wants to make a twelve-person centipede, for real, and he wants to include the three actors who starred in "The Human Centipede" so that he can control them, the stars of the film that spurred him to action in the first place.
It's so meta it hurts. Six could be saying many things… he could be talking about the corrosive heart of the horror community, calling out horror fans for their fascination with the awful. Or he could be making a comment about the accusation that violence in media causes copycat actions. Or he could be saying any of a half-dozen other metaphors that are dropped in with crude force. There's nothing subtle about what Six is doing in this one, and when he wraps it up with not just one but two of the cheapest of cheap cop-out endings in a row, it's sort of unforgivable.
Along the way, there are a few Quentin Tarantino jokes, a whole bunch of uncomfortable close-ups of Harvey, and a much more graphic wallow in filth than in the first film. His big innovation here is the way he shoots the extreme gore. The film is black and white, and it makes it possible for him to make a movie this covered in nasty. Teeth are bashed out, tendons and nerves are cut, skulls are crushed, and much much more. It's vile, it's graphic, and it's utterly boring after a while. It's a laundry list. It became a case of "Really?" at each new level-up Martin goes through in his rise to cinema censorship legend. There's an escape attempt by a pregnant woman (yes, he abducts and physically abuses a pregnant woman, who appears nude in much of the film and who appears to actually be pregnant) that ends on such a ridiculous graphic note that even 1987 Paul Verhoeven would say, "That feels like a bit much, frankly," and to no good effect. So what? So you can ladle on the gore with the same unsubtle touch as the film's various attempts at subtext.
Six says he has a final chapter in the trilogy planned and that it's the coolest one and will most likely be his favorite. Right now, he'd have to pull something truly brilliant out of his hat to convince me that this is anything more than This Year's Model, an empty shock parade without any true philosophical teeth.
IFC Midnight plans to infect audiences with "The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence" starting October 7, 2011.