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Big Screen | Korine's Wildly Divisive "Humpers" Debuts

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 5, 2010 at 5:26AM

While "Iron Man 2" is officially kicking off the studio's summer movie season, a quintet of specialty films are entering the market in hopes of providing a alternative for those not into watching Robert Downey Jr. fight a lycra catsuit-fitted Scarlett Johannson. Two of them are politically-minded documentaries coming out of Sundance with Alex Gibney's "CASINO JACK and the United States of Money" and Laura Poitras's "The Oath." Two of them are definitely catering to Mother's Day on Sunday in Rodrigo Garcia's "Mother and Child" and Thomas Balmes's "Babies." Finally, one of them is unlike anything else in the marketplace, and just so happens to be the most critically divisive film in the history of criticWIRE: Harmony Korine's "Trash Humpers."
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While "Iron Man 2" is officially kicking off the studio's summer movie season, a quintet of specialty films are entering the market in hopes of providing a alternative for those not into watching Robert Downey Jr. fight a lycra catsuit-fitted Scarlett Johannson. Two of them are politically-minded documentaries coming out of Sundance with Alex Gibney's "CASINO JACK and the United States of Money" and Laura Poitras's "The Oath." Two of them are definitely catering to Mother's Day on Sunday in Rodrigo Garcia's "Mother and Child" and Thomas Balmes's "Babies." Finally, one of them is unlike anything else in the marketplace, and just so happens to be the most critically divisive film in the history of criticWIRE: Harmony Korine's "Trash Humpers."

The film - being released through record label Drag City - will open in New York at Cinema Village this Friday, with Los Angeles following next weekend and other cities to follow. Described by Korine as "a film unearthed from the buried landscape of the American nightmare," "Humpers" follows a small group of elderly, deformed sociopaths as they wander the back streets of Nashville, getting drunk, breaking televisions, and, yes, humping trash cans. Assembled with little narrative, as if it were found footage, the film was shot without a script and entirely on VHS.

With grades ranging from A to F on its criticWIRE page, the film has received an array of responses. Among those in favor is indieWIRE's Eric Kohn, who writes in his review:

"You can see why Werner Herzog loves this guy: Like the German auteur’s best narratives, 'Trash Humpers' not only sympathizes with socially ostracized misanthropes - it adopts their perspective. The camera observes their lifestyle and the cameraman (generally one of the wrinkled characters) frequently engages in it. Constantly heard chanting 'Make it, make it, don’t take it' and an eerie tune about 'three little devils,' he provides the lunacy with a makeshift avant garde soundtrack. These beastly creations certainly march to the beat of their own drum. Korine brings us into a hermetic world not unlike Todd Browning’s 'Freaks,' where things that initially seem dark and unsettling become normalized."

LA Weekly's Karina Longworth, then writing for Spout Blog, reviewed the film upon its screening at last year's New York Film Festival, and felt similarly, calling it "just too good to be trash."

Variety's Rob Nelson liked it too, saying that "Trash Humpers" is "a pre-fab underground manifesto to rank beside John Waters' legendarily crass 'Pink Flamingos.'," though warning that "theatrical distribution is virtually inconceivable." Though Drag City made it clear that wasn't the case, it remains to be seen how "Humpers" will do at the box office.

Folks that might be happy if it doesn't do so well include Slant's Nick Schager, who wrote that "Korine's staged stunt is intended to resemble a found-footage artifact 'that was in some attic or buried in some ditch' (per the press notes), an inherently impossible aim that refutes his characters' mantra ('Make it, don't fake it!') and epitomizes this prankster wank-off's wannabe-transgressive phoniness."

Same goes for Time Out New York's David Fear. His review says that if "Humpers" is "what passes for contemporary art terrorism, we’ll opt instead for something truly subversive - like genuine art."

For potential filmgoers, it may simply boil down to "Trash Humpers" not being your kinda thing, and if that is the case, those other four aforementioned films certainly have more steady support from critics. Laura Poitras's The Oath has the highest criticWIRE score among the opening films with a "B+" average, while Alex Gibney's "CASINO JACK and the United States of Money" Rodrigo Garcia's "Mother and Child" and Thomas Balmes's "Babies" were not far behind. Check out links to each film's indieWIRE page as well as other films recently released in theaters below. They include synopses, trailers and a variety of criticWIRE grades and links to reviews.

iW Film Calendar & criticWIRE:
criticWIRE | Opening this week | Opening this month | All Films A - Z

criticWIRE: Films Opening This Week

The Oath (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

CASINO JACK and the United States of Money (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Mother and Child (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Babies (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Trash Humpers (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

criticWIRE: Films Currently In Theaters

Exit Through The Gift Shop (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

Women Without Men (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Please Give (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

The Secret In Their Eyes (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

La Mission (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Pornography: A Thriller (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Mercy (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

The Human Centipede (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Harry Brown (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

The City of Your Final Destination (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

The Misfortunates (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

The Jonses (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

The Good Heart (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

Paper Man (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C-

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.