Fantastic Fest 2011 Review: Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence
by Britt Hayes
Two years ago Tom Six premiered Human Centipede at Fantastic Fest, earning high praise for the button-pushing genre film and promising a more provocative and brutal second film in the planned trilogy. This year Six is back with Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.
Six introduces his audience to Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), our depraved antagonist — and in an interesting move chooses to construct a meta narrative, where Martin is a mentally disturbed and slightly disabled man obsessed with Human Centipede. He watches the film every day and keeps a scrapbook of key moments and information. Working as a parking garage attendant, Martin attacks and collects victims to create a 12 person human centipede of his very own.
Where Human Centipede 2 largely succeeds is in its hypothetical notion of a fan of the first film attempting to replicate the violence. It’s as if Six is in a direct dialogue with his audience, reacting to the demands to up the ante with more violence and depravity. You asked for it, you got it. Unfortunately this creates a disconnect between filmmaker and viewer, where Six is seemingly positioning himself as better than or above his audience. The meta aspect fails to cement itself as anything worthy or meaningful, but almost works as a commentary on cinematic endurance tests.
Much like the excrement passed from person to person, the gimmicky endurance tests of horror cinema have been part of a trickle down effect for decades, with each latest entity assimilating the harshest elements of its predecessors while pushing the boundaries even further. At the end of the horror movie centipede, we’re left with the endlessly processed and repulsively filthy result: Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.
The film exists solely as a feverish fantasy and commentary on the demands of its audience, posing the singular question: what if someone actually did this? But the commentary is thin and doesn’t feel fully realized. A stronger director with a more cogent vision might have crafted a film that speaks to the depraved desires and shameful enjoyment of its audience; a film that calls into question the audience’s craving for more and more perversion, always feeling safe and at a distance, removed from the horror on screen. It questions the complicity of the audience, but becomes burdened by cliches — chiefly Martin’s bed-wetting, self-mutilating man child, encumbered by his domineering mother who blames him for his pedophile father’s incarceration. It’s all too on the nose to stir too much sympathy for the character, though Martin is played beautifully by Harvey.
If anything, Human Centipede 2 calls to mind Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film with similar meta concepts and commentary, but where Funny Games is executed with pitch-perfect precision, Human Centipede 2 fails to nail the landing. Presented in black and white, the film looks good, but Six employs the stylistic choice in a hollow, self-serving manner. These sorts of aesthetic choices should have purpose and be meaningful, but here it’s as if Six is using black and white as an out — that if you have anything to say about the viciousness on display, it’s okay because you weren’t subjected to the viscera in color, but it’s also seemingly an attempt to court praises of artistry.
In the end it’s a lot of noise and fury, but is it really saying anything at all? More importantly, is what it has to say something that needs to be heard? For a film that exists as commentary on the horror films viewers dare their friends and selves to endure, Human Centipede 2 is a regurgitation of things that have been said more poignantly by better directors in better films.