The Human Centipede (First Sequence) Review
When you want to see a movie called The Human Centipede, I suppose you should be happy that you get what's advertised.
Tom Six's directorial and writing effort lives and dies on an image that both repulses and fascinates. The spectacle of 3 people joined via gastrointestinal systems into a crawling, mewling train is a visual I'd never thought I'd see in a film before and at the same time an inadequate justification of the movie's 93 minute runtime.
Star Dieter Laser plays the very Teutonic Dr. Heiter whose developed a consuming obsession with creating a human centipede after a failed attempt with his three rottweilers. Until recently he was a renowned expert at separating conjoined siblings so this represents a kind of change in vocation for him. While the origin of this fascination is never addressed, it definitely has him motivated to go out with his rifle in hunt of "segments." Enter American tourists Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) and Dr. Heiter is well on his way to completing his project.
It's not a spoiler to say that he succeeds at around the halfway mark given that the movie isn't called The Human Centipede (Incomplete Sequence), and the remainder of the running time follows the doctor as he attempts to "train" his centipede in movement, eating, and obedience. Sensing a vacuum in conflict, the script throws in some cops in the final act, but the movie's real focus is on Dr. Heiter and his experiment.
It's easy to see the appeal - Laser strikes a formidable image with his thin, spindly body, large expressive eyes set in a gaunt face under a shock of dark hair. The actor brings a strange sexual and comic intensity to the role. He's so fetishized this experiment that he becomes ecstatic at its completion. It's often bug-eyed scenery chewing but it's never dull. His performance is the main reason to see this film, injecting a rich vein of black humor to the proceedings.
His costars fare less favorably. The two American actresses aren't really given much to do beyond writhe and scream. Their few lines in the film are delivered with a noticeable lack of commitment but they are admirably game when the script calls for them to be terrified. As the lead in the centipede Akihiro Kitamura enjoys a bit more range as an angry Japanese tourist who's convinced he can somehow intimidate his way out of his predicament.
Six has joked that the inspiration for the film came from wanting to stitch nasty or criminal people to the ass of a fat truck driver. Well, he has realized that visual (minus deserving victims) but for all the ingenuity of realizing his vision, his film lacks any kind of conflict or thematic underpinnings that will allow it to live on beyond the initial word of mouth. We're never really certain what motivates Dr. Heiter or why he claims to hate humanity. There's actually a palpable deflation to the doctor (and the movie) after the initial thrill of completing his experiment. It's as though the script (and by extension Dr. Heiter) don't know what to do once his little experiment is completed. The final events of the movie qualify as an ending but perhaps not the one that's tied to this film.
As for the much talked-about gruesomeness of what's on the screen - there were some noticeable gasps during my screening but I could personally never escape the feeling that Six was trying his hardest to gross me out (which tended to have no effect). Much more is implied than shown, so the director should be commended on using the power of suggestion. I just wish he'd implied a bit less emphatically.
Again, you get what's advertised when you see this film - nothing more and nothing less. I think I would have loved this as a short. As a feature, though, it feels like it loses its way.
Tom Six has promised to deliver a sequel to the movie with a 12-person centipede. But really, once you've seen a 3-person centipede, haven't you seen them all?