‘Trash Humpers’ truly unsettling

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010 7:30pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Describing a movie such as Harmony Korine’s “Trash Humpers” is a challenge for a reviewer writing for a newspaper. Just describing what this movie is about risks nauseating the reader.

So, fortify yourself, or skip over to the “Toy Story 3” review in Thursday’s paper. “Trash Humpers” is a horrifying vision from the still-young director of “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy,” although it makes those films look like trendy performance art by comparison.

According to his own testimony, the film is inspired by Korine’s childhood memory of seeing elderly people hanging out in alleyways behind his house, drinking and goofing and cackling at night.

Korine has imagined a geriatric version of the juvenile delinquents from 1950s movies, roaming around looking for kicks.

Four elderly creepos — actors in bizarre old-age masks — get together and destroy old TVs and cinder blocks, peep in windows and occasionally rub up against trash cans in an apparently lascivious manner.

There is no plot, just a series of episodes. The footage we see is supposedly taken by one of the members of the gang (played by Korine himself, screeching and singing on the soundtrack), with an old VHS camera.

So the image quality is deliberately washed-out and skuzzy, with abrupt cuts and videotape artifacts. You could, at times, believe that what you’re watching really was discovered inside a discarded VHS camera, like a “Blair Witch Project” filmed by lunatics.

At first just gross and repellent, the movie slowly becomes even more disturbing, as the old folks seem to have killed someone, an event they are quite pleased about. There’s something about the age of the participants and the eerie lo-tech approach that adds to the sense of depravity.

As repulsive as much of this is, Korine has created a fully conceived nightmare; it isn’t so hard to imagine this subculture actually existing out there in the night somewhere. (The movie was shot in Nashville, but it could be anywhere — or is there something going on in Nashville I don’t know about?)

It’s easy to reject this film, but I have to acknowledge that it has actual cinematic ideas and a certain amount of power. I also acknowledge that when its well-judged running time of 78 minutes was over, I was profoundly relieved.

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