The Human Centipede (First Sequence) Review
Amongst many claims on the box, the one phrase I have unequivocally no problem with is that the film is “a unique experience”. Sitting down on my sofa with the thoughtfully provided sick bag (gotta love these PR companies) by my side I settled down to see whether The Human Centipede was likely to crawl its way into my affections or whether I would simply be grossed out to the point of actually using the provided artefact.
The Human Centipede is classified on the imdb (and by extension on our site) as a Drama / Horror / Thriller but according to director Tom Six none of these descriptions are correct. According to him, the film is a very black comedy. Whatever genre the film belongs to, it is undoubtedly one of the most original ideas to hit celluloid for a long time.
I doubt the plot needs much explaining. When I mentioned to some friends that my review copy had arrived, two of them actually implored me not to review it at all. I could not persuade one of them to actually watch it with me – such was the revulsion they all felt towards the movie. In many ways this is a triumph of marketing. There are YouTube videos springing up of people’s reaction to just watching the trailer, in a clever pastiche of the “Two girls, one cup” controversy. These do not seem to be videos that have been created by the film-makers themselves either, meaning that the modern marketing goal of “going viral” has been achieved. However, there may be a few out there who do not know what the film is about – so a brief recap follows.
Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie respectively) are two young American ladies, travelling in Germany, who have been told about an excellent nightclub. They head out to try and find it before their car happens to breaks down in the middle of nowhere in the dark. They head out to find help and stumbling upon the house of Doctor Heiter (Dieter Laser). The mad Doctor is certainly creepy – a cadaverous version of Christopher Walken. He invites them in, pretends to phone for help, casually mentions that he hates people before drugging both the girls. The good Doctor is an eminent plastic surgeon, famed in particular for his pioneering operations in separating conjoined twins. However, he has become obsessed with achieving the opposite – joining individuals instead of separating them. His plan is to join three human beings, mouth to anus, in a bizarre experiment – creating a Human Centipede with one digestive tract.
So, there you go. So far, so original. Regardless of how you might feel about the moral aspects of a film such as this (or indeed the type of mind that would come up with such a concept), you have to say that in a genre full of generic slasher films this is an original idea. I also have to hold my hands up and say that as a film watcher the sheer nuttiness of the concept did enough to have me wanting to watch the film. The whole project intrigued me – I was fascinated to see exactly how far they would go. Exactly how they would handle the idea.
The answer, I am afraid to say, is that it is not handled very well. There is a central flaw to the film, and that is for this viewer at least it failed to elicit any strong emotional responses of any kind. At no time did I find myself shocked by what I was witnessing, and at no time did I find myself frightened by the events on screen. Now for a film of this nature that is obviously a cardinal sin – and I have thought long and hard about why the film left me so cold. It seems to be a combination of several issues. Firstly, the whole film is full of ridiculous events and coincidences that just do not ring true. For a start, you break down in the dead of the night in the middle of nowhere with dense woodland on either side. If you HAVE to walk away from the car (and you would be pretty stupid to do so) you stick to the road, right? Not in Human Centipede land. You walk through the woods just so you can achieve some spooky shots for the director of photography. Avoid the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to read a very minor spoiler. You are captured by an evil doctor and tied to a hospital bed in the basement. You lie there for several days, kept on a drip. You witness the doctor kill someone and then capture someone else. Just as he is putting your best friend into an anaesthetised sleep you use your teeth to undo your restraints and escape. Seriously, you didn’t think about trying that two days ago????
Such ridiculous contrivances just constantly pulled me out of the film. Instead of being drawn into this twisted world I was constantly being pushed out of it by my conscious mind refusing to buy into the events being portrayed. By the time the Doctor is trying to train his human centipede to fetch his daily paper like a dog, I was totally lost.
The other major problem is the performances. Ancillary characters sit around, not reacting to events happening around them, until it is time for them to speak at which point they burst into life like poor automatons. The two main female characters are charisma-free zones, and Dieter Laser phones in just about the most wooden performance I have had the misfortune to sit through. He plays the character as an emotionally stunted individual, incapable of feeling any empathy for other humans – but the lack of any back story for him merely makes him an onscreen cypher.
The general sense you get from the whole enterprise is that the film consists of a central idea that the director had, and decided to go ahead and put on celluloid without really ever bothering with a decent story to back the idea up. And indeed interviews with Tom Six seem to back this theory up – he constantly talks about how the idea came from a conversation with his mates where he decided that a good punishment for a paedophile would be to glue his mouth to a fat truckers arse. This is all very well, but such an idea is hardly a good basis for a whole movie.
In fact, this is one of the other weaknesses of the film. There just seems to be no point behind the Doctor’s aim to create the Centipede. There is simply nowhere for the story to go once the creature has been created. It cannot move easily, it cannot articulate the pain it is feeling in any way. It just seems a sick idea in search of a motive.
The film is also surprisingly unshocking. The Doctor explains in great length to his victims exactly what the operation will consist of – but when it comes to showing it, Six suddenly seems to go all coy on us. There is very little gore in the film at all – and a lot is left to the imagination. This, allied to the silliness of the whole enterprise adds to the whole sense of an anaemic production that fails to elicit much of a response from the audience.
Of course, if you accept Tom Six’s explanation that the film is, in fact, a comedy then I suppose that you could actually ignore many of the criticisms I have made during this review. But to me, this explanation does not make much sense. There is no wit in the screenplay, and no clever comedic twists on genre conventions here. There is no subtext to the plot, and no deeper level to the film at all. This, at the end of the day is probably the biggest flaw of all. The film is merely average. And for a film with such a wonderfully twisted premise – this is an unforgiveable sin.