Trash Humpers opens with three deranged pensioners humping, groping and fellating garbage cans and foliage alike. Through the grim mirk of VHS static these characters are lent a nightmare quality that is only amplified by each of their artificial and equally monstrous looking faces. And yet, as one of them systematically suckles on a tree branch whilst tenderly fondling its imaginary balls, one cannot help but laugh. This duality, of the disturbing and the humorous, is a signature only one man could pull off so effectively, Harmony Korine.
Korine’s Gummo was a minor triumph of alternative cinema, nonchalantly dealing with drugs, homelessness, mental health, numerous disabilities and more in one daring, all encompassing and unnervingly exploitative film. By contrast, Trash Humpers is a lo-fi sketch book of perverse vignettes and spiritually closer to his 1999 feature, Julien Donkey Boy. Shot as if it were an amateur home video and with no particular narrative or moral to be drawn from it, Trash Humpers stands as a perplexing yet mesmerising tone poem of unsettling menace and sociopathic humour.
Never less than fascinating, any given ‘scene’ can produce a myriad of feelings. One such atypical and unnerving instance presents two of the elderly men sitting quietly on a porch swing, listening intently to the sound of a baby crying, the distorted audio emitting from a mobile phone placed carefully between them. It seems as though an important ritual for them, the purpose of which we will never know. But the minds of these warped individuals are not ours to fathom as the opportunity is never presented. Instead we are a passive audience, numbly observing their perplexing and grimly hilarious activities that are both satisfyingly vandalous and unquestionably bizarre.
Around forty minutes into the running time a man dressed in a maid’s outfit reads aloud an original poem that alludes to the idea that the trash humpers are an entertaining by-product of our civilisation. In turn, Korine has gone on record saying that he wondered whether mainstream audiences would become envious of the characters social freedom. The combination of Korine’s ‘provocative’ statement and the ridiculous poem would imply that the movie is a curiosity, a question mark regarding society and audience reaction. In other words, do we want to be trash humpers?
It’s a silly question and could easily be written off as pretentious. It holds some water, however, as the groups minor acts of vandalism are never less than hypnotising, entertaining in the most basic and primal of facets. As we watch televisions smashed, kicked and bludgeoned, this destruction and the act of it is inherently appealing. But, everything else that the characters partake in is appealing strictly from an observational standpoint. The flippant off screen murder of an unfortunate associate is inherently alarming and feels in no way like ‘social freedom’, but instead feels like social insanity.
As alarming and exciting as this movie may be to some, to others, it will seem like self indulgent, non-sensical tripe. While these two opinions are somewhat opposed they are also both valid. Trash Humpers is an entertaining experiment that should be taken as just that, an experiment. As a piece of narrative cinema it is obviously lacking and will dissatisfy the average movie going audience. But what it is and where it finds worth, really, is as a moving painting, a kind of Dada nightmare that runs on its own insanity, never conscious of the viewer and therefore never out to satisfy them which is more edifying then one would ever expect.