Pity the festival-going fool who stumbles unawares into Harmony Korine’s patently abrasive, deliberately cruddy-looking mock-documentary “Trash Humpers.” All others — that is, those familiar with Korine’s anti-bourgeois oeuvre and know what they’re in for — will have a glorious time. Named for a band of cretinous vandals in old-folks masks who favor gyrating against garbage cans (and worse), “Trash Humpers” is a pre-fab underground manifesto to rank beside John Waters’ legendarily crass “Pink Flamingos.” Theatrical distribution is virtually inconceivable — though, in part for this reason, any fest devoted to maintaining its rep among cult-film completists will simply beg for it.
Lacking the slightest hint of narrative, the film amounts to a series of scuzzy screwball vignettes in which the masked miscreants and assorted hangers-on (including an incognito Korine) perform for the camera — bashing TVs with sledgehammers, blasting an empty wheelchair with a self-serve car-wash gun, “killing” various plastic dolls, spanking a trio of women in lingerie, lighting firecrackers, singing, cackling incessantly and other taste-challenged ephemera.
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The result, riveting beyond all rationality, is something like “Jackass,” except that here the stunts are dangerous only to standards of good taste — which, of course, is precisely the point.
Rather shrewdly, Korine (“Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy”) has met the inevitable accusation of garbage-peddling head-on, having characterized the film as one that could’ve been found on a trash heap. (At the artier extreme, Jean-Luc Godard said exactly the same of his apocalyptic “Weekend” in 1967.)
Shot on low-grade VHS tape, complete with pesky tracking problems and VCR playback info, the pic has been transferred to 35mm in all its milky, degraded glory; the look of the film has no small share of perverse beauty, particularly for those who miss the charming imperfections of videocassettes in this squeaky-clean digital era.
The question of whether “Trash Humpers” would’ve risen from its cesspool without Korine’s hipster celebrity is but one of many that the pic provokes. Another, equally unanswerable, is the extent to which the onscreen mayhem was scripted (even though Korine is credited as writer). So, too, the question of what the eventual presence of dead bodies onscreen has to do with the trash humpers is fairly open to interpretation. Maybe it’s an art film after all.
Across the board, tech credits are appalling — in a good way.