Friday, December 3, 2010

Trash Humpers (2009): Review

Directed by Harmony Korine.
Starring Rachel Korine, Harmony Korine, Brian Kotzur, and Travis Nicholson.
Running Time: 78 minutes

Resembling a SOV version of GUMMO without the narrative, and with a group of troublemakers disguised in grotesque masks instead of troubled, drug-abusing teenagers, TRASH HUMPERS is a plotless art-film in which said troublemakers wander around the back roads and secluded areas of Nashville, Tennessee dry humping trash bins and trees, destroying inanimate objects such as televisions and radios, and encountering an assortment of characters who somehow manage to outdo them in the "weird" department.

At first glance, TRASH HUMPERS may seem like nothing more than a bizarre variation of JACKASS, in which its actors hide behind makeup and do crazy shit in public, but anyone with an appreciation for avant-garde cinema (and preferably with a familiarization of director Harmony Korine's cinematic quirks and style of filmmaking) may find that this undeniably insane film actually has some heart to it. As evidenced by his other films (whether you like them or not), Harmony Korine has an absolutely uncanny way of making things seem completely natural when in fact you're watching something scripted and carefully directed. Of course this isn't always the case, but Korine truly has a great understanding of the cinema veritee style of filmmaking; his actual knowledge of filmmaking masked by the bat-shit crazy subjects that he films, making the viewer believe that they're watching something legitimately psychotic. Such is the case with GUMMO, JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (even with recognizable people like Ewen Bremner and Werner Herzog amongst the cast), and of course TRASH HUMPERS.

Art films can be a touchy subject for some people, no matter if they're a casual film fan or hardcore cinephile. Kenneth Anger (a favorite of mine) is a good example. Some people think his films are brilliant and others think his films are extremely overrated and pretentious, but, as with any form of art, be it film or painting, the beauty of a certain piece of art is in the eye of the beholder and what that piece of art means to them. That being said, TRASH HUMPERS was destined to be a divisive film, and even I found myself questioning the merits of what I was watching throughout most of it. TRASH HUMPERS is so maniacal that it's almost impossible to classify. Is it art? Is it exploitation or comedy or horror? Or, is it indeed "trash"?

The film follows three central characters (a female, played by Harmony's wife Rachel, and two males) who resemble destructive senior citizens. Every once in a while, the fourth character (played by Harmony himself), who mainly films the shenanigans, appears in front of the camera to join in on the bizarre antics. These characters are extremely unsettling and downright frightening at times, and most of the credit goes to their masks and makeup effects that make them seem like relatives of the Sawyer family from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, who somehow got away from the Lone Star state to wreak havoc in another part of the country. And, while it's not exactly a film with any true narrative structure, and it obviously takes place over the course of a few days, TRASH HUMPERS is comparable to a "one crazy night" film that gets progressively more deranged. It starts out as an uncomfortable comedy, and by the middle of the film the main characters are murdering people instead of terrorizing inanimate objects.

In the end, TRASH HUMPERS - a film that I contemplated not even finishing because of how stupid I initially thought it was - won me over and I found it to be an impressive, unhinged piece of filmmaking. It's not enjoyable, per se, or very re-watchable (the same can be said for the director's other films), but Harmony Korine has undoubtedly created a niche for himself as a filmmaker who's willing to be bold and take chances, and this is merely the next step in an interesting direction in his career. To follow his pristine and beautifully-filmed MISTER LONELY with something that purposely looks like a really bad dub of a VHS tape is a testament to that statement. I'd only recommend seeing TRASH HUMPERS if you're familiar with Korine's work or if you like strange art-movies. If you'd like to explore Korine's filmography, this is not a good starting point.

Make or Break scene: For me, the scene that made the film was the ending. There are a lot of interesting moments throughout the film, but the ending, in a way, redeemed every tasteless moment leading up to that point. I won't say what happens in the end even though it isn't necessarily a "spoiler", but strangely I found the ending to be quite heartwarming and scary at the same time. It's a very intimate moment with just Harmony and Rachel Korine and a third character, and a nice way to wrap things up.

Most Valuable Thing: Without a doubt, Harmony Korine. He's the mastermind behind this, so it would only be fitting to give him the props. Personally, I'm really not a fan of his work, with the exception being his most accessible film MISTER LONELY, but I do admire him for sticking to his guns and creating films that are personal to him.

Score: 7/10


  1. The thing about Trash Humpers that bothers me is that these aren't his reigns to take. Sure, it reflects the backwards backwoods types he covers in Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy but the shtick of trailer-scud belongs to Giuseppe Andrews, in all his reclusive glory. Trash Humpers isn't really anything beyond an experiment to rehash what Andrews has been doing for years.


  2. Good point and you're absolutely right - I never even thought of Giuseppe Andrews while watching this movie, so thanks for bringing that up. Andrews is the king of exploiting the trailer park lifestyle and has a better understanding/appreciation of the lifestyle and aesthetic, but I don't fault Korine for basically doing what Andrews has been doing for years. Although, GUMMO predates anything that Andrews has done (that I'm aware of). Thanks for the feedback, maQ.