Thoughts on 96.987% of The Human Centipede 2

Friday October 14th 2011

There’s something undeniably clever about the utterly stupid way in which Tom Six has made The Human Centipede 2. Over the course of just under ninety minutes, he does his best to throw as many conflicting styles, ideas and messages into the film as possible, until it becomes entirely unworkable to say anything about his creation with any degree of certainty. In his own incredibly self-defeating way, he’s made the film impervious to criticism.

Not that we can’t have a go.

Much of Six’s follow-up to the 2009 cult horror is plainly offensive and exploitative, swapping the simple but effective cat-and-mouse structure of the first film in favour of scene after scene of unrelenting (and graphically realised) torture. The BBFC’s cuts take a little of the sting out of the more difficult material — while introducing a number of plot holes — but what remains is still an unpleasant watch by anyone’s standards.

Our new antagonist (or protagonist, depending on your point of view) comes in the form of grotesquely obese car park attendant Martin, an obsessive fan of the first Human Centipede movie who spends his days watching the DVD on loop and compiling scrapbooks of the film’s publicity materials. In case you haven’t noticed yet, this is all about You The Viewer, so get ready to have your ENTIRE WORLD VIEW skewered by Six’s razor-sharp satirical instinct. Or something.

It’s implied (not entirely subtly) that Martin was abused as a child, but Six’s pop psychology victim-becomes-the-perpetrator thesis is so trite that you suspect he’s only doing it to fuck with his audience. Elsewhere, he blames violence in the media, basis human cruelty and even himself for Martin’s psychopathy. It’s the filmmaking equivalent of circling all the answers on a multiple-choice quiz in the hope that the teacher will take pity on you and give you the mark anyway.

The humour of the first film isn’t entirely absent here, lodged mainly in the early scenes between Martin and his overbearing mother. She blames him for the abuse he suffered at the hands of his dad (‘it’s your fault your father’s in prison!’) and their scenes together — nightmarish kitchen sink sequences set in a dingy London flat — are blackly hilarious.

Performance artist Laurence Harvey does a pretty amazing job as Martin given that he’s tasked with carrying the entire movie without dialogue and spends most of the film wobbling around a warehouse torturing people like a homicidal Mr. Plod. But even he can’t sustain a third act that’s soundtracked exclusively by the muffled sobs of a dozen unidentified victims. The absolute bleakness of these scenes makes it clear what Six considers the movie: an endurance test, to be tolerated by the loyal and condemned by the ignorant and the feeble.

In either case, he wins. Like the BBFC ban and the outraged American reviews, my negative opinion only serves to make the film that little bit more interesting to its potential audience, who seem less concerned by its quality than its content. I’ll admit I was probably guilty of the same thing when I eagerly accepted the press screening invitation last week.

Cynical filmmaking of the highest order, The Human Centipede 2 is Tom Six having his cake and eating it. And what’s more, he’s doing so through twelve interconnected digestive systems.