The 2010 After Dark Film Festival came to a close Friday night with the Toronto Premiere of The Human Centipede. If the organizers of the festival were hoping to end on a disturbing and shocking note, they succeeded completely with a film that lives up to its notorious reputation.
The film made its premiere last year in the U.S. and has since slowly done the festival circuit, with a limited release in the U.S. and United Kingdom. Due to a lack of distribution, the film hadn’t been seen in Canada until recently, and has finally made its way to Toronto for its local premiere. In that time, the film has become an internet sensation on YouTube with its shocking trailer.
The story begins with two beautiful young American women, Lindsay (Ashley Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), traveling through Europe. One night in Germany, their car breaks down on a deserted road in the country while they are trying to find a nightclub. They make their way on foot to an isolated house where they meet the strange Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). He drugs the women, along with another captive, a Japanese man named Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). The hostages find themselves tied to hospital beds where Dr. Heiter explains what he has in store for them. Using diagrams on a wall, he describes his plan to surgically attach the three of them from anus to mouth, creating one long creature with one digestive track.
Despite its subject matter, the film is not as graphically explicit as you might think. When the three people are attached, we mainly only see bandages attaching their bodies together with a few scars around their cheeks. For the most part, the true awfulness of the film takes place inside the viewer’s mind. What also adds to the horror of this film are the doctor’s motivations for doing the operation; besides his ego, it is clear his motivation is to make the three people sub-human, less than even an animal. The doctor says early on in the film, “I don’t like human beings,” and that line basically sums it up.
Strangely, the film is also quite funny at times. With this kind of “out there” subject matter, it’s hard to take it completely seriously and the audience was laughing out loud during many parts of the film. Laser’s performance is part intense and part intentionally over the top. There are a few scenes in which the doctor is mourning the loss of his “three pup dogs” that were so ridiculous that the theatre was bursting with laughter. The humour — intentional or not — was quite welcome, because it makes the viewing experience much more bearable, reminding us that it’s only a movie.
The actors who make up the centipede should also be commended for braving such a challenging role. In particular, the two lead actresses that make up the second part of the centipede had to play half the film in a silence. They can only use their hands to communicate to each other and their eyes give you all the information you need to understand the hell they are going through.
The only area where the film really falls flat is in some of the victims’ motivations and reasoning for trying to escape. Sometimes it feels like the characters are doing things to move the story in a particular direction rather than making believable choices. The film also falls into too many horror film clichÃ©s of pretty girls being stranded, the dark and stormy night, the “Frankenstein-style” doctor, and how the police act when the girls go missing. The clichÃ©s make the film predictable at times and it’s hard to take it seriously during those parts.
Apparently there are plans to make a sequel called The Human Centipede II that is supposed to be way more explicit than this film, which I think would be a mistake. What makes this film work, for the most part, is that the violence and horror is mostly implied. By showing more detail, the film would lose its edge and make it quite unwatchable. What made something like the original Jaws work was that you hardly saw the shark and the same goes for the horror of this movie.
The film isn’t for everybody, but it does succeed in what it sets out to do. Likely the most psychologically gross film you will ever see, it was actually fun to watch in a festival surrounding. So if you do plan to see it, there will be an exclusive screening at the Toronto Underground Cinema from August 28th to September 3rd. Discounted price if three people go together. Surgery not included.