About halfway through The Human Centipede, as I was recoiling from what I was being shown, I asked myself a couple of fairly reasonable questions: Where does it go from here? And is anything going to happen that I actually want to see? I spent the next fifteen minutes staring at the screen with something akin to shame. At about the hour mark, I started to gather up my things; I've never walked out of a critics' screening before, but I was ready to. And then I stopped myself, because I would feel dishonest, writing a review of a movie I hadn't seen through to the end. But not writing this one up would be letting it off to easy. No. We need to talk about this movie.
It starts off interestingly, as these things go. Yes, the set-up is a little obvious--Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists, are on a road trip through Europe. En route to an obscure nightclub, they get lost on a back road, flat tire, you know the drill. They wander through the nearby woods and end up at the home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who is plenty sinister. He lets them in, pretends to make a call, roofies their water, and takes them down to his basement lab.
So far, not so bad. The constant name repetition in the dialogue is irritating (there will be no doubt, by the end of the film, that one of the girls is named Lindsay, and the other is named Jenny), but the dread is thick, and the pseudo-Kubrickian photography is clean while creepily off-putting. Director Tom Six knows from atmosphere and gets the job done in these early scenes, slamming the "young women in jeopardy" set-up into a worst-case scenario, coldly and efficiently.
But some of it is just plain goofy, and it only gets worse when our evil genius lays out his ridiculous plan. Here it is (spoiler warning, etc.): the good doctor, who made his name and fame successfully separating Siamese twins, now plans to do the opposite. He explains to his two hostages, and the third one he's added, that he is going to connect them into a kind of (title!) human centipede. How will this centipede work, you ask? Oh, he explains it (and here's where you want to click away if you've got a weak stomach): he will surgically attach them to each other, mouth to anus, running the intestine from the front one, through the second, and into the third.
Somebody made a movie about this.
This is around when I started eyeing the exit. Most of the rest of my notes are along the lines of "Yep, they're really gonna show us this" and "This is actually happening." No, you think. They don't actually show that, it doesn't actually happen. Oh yes they do, and yes it does. The result is a cinematic geek show--there's absolutely no engagement with it whatsoever, because we spend the entire second half of the story feeling bad for the actors. They spend the second half of the film in that "human centipede", their faces buried in each other's asses, the girls (of course) topless. It's reprehensible. What this sadistic director has put them through runs parallel to the madman at his story's center--but this is worse, because it really happened. However much they paid these actors, it wasn't enough.
There's tension here or there, and skill in some of the performances--the girls are likable, and Laser has a real presence, though he turns too obvious at the climax, overacting grotesquely and then becoming laughably stupid at the plot's convenience. There's even some suspense in the repulsive climax, before the laughable attempt to shoehorn in some kind of bullshit philosophical nonsense.
But it's cheap, repugnant filmmaking. I can't imagine the director who would want to make The Human Centipede, or the distributor who would want other people to see it. But more than anything, I can't imagine the audience that would want to subject itself to it. I know, in writing a review this harsh and strongly-worded, I'm risking drawing people to it. Well, if it got that kind of response, if it's that fucked up, I gotta see it, right? Please trust me on this. I don't mean to be the carnival barker here, but it's seriously the most vile, sickening thing I've ever watched. You can't un-see it. Don't go, or the consequences could be dire. How, you ask? Well, there's a moment of confusion when the opening title comes up (ah, that lovely, simpler time in my life, the last moment before I'd seen The Human Centipede), because it reads The Human Centipede (First Sequence) . What the hell does that mean? When I went to imdb later, I found out: currently listed as "in development" is, of course, a sequel: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Young actors looking for a break, beware.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.