Indie Snapshot: The Human Centipede II and Dirty Girl

What's scarier -- a human centipede or a dirty girl?

The Human Centipede II
I'd describe the second Human Centipede picture as a disgusting, degrading wallow in sadomasochistic torture, but I have a feeling that franchise mastermind Tom Six would take that as a compliment. Having already set the shock value bar pretty high with the first Human Centipede -- in which two road-tripping American girls are kidnapped by a German doctor and linked together "ass to mouth" with a third prisoner in order to form a... well, a human centipede -- Six has no choice but to make the sequel bigger, grosser and more outré than what came before. Hence, instead of three victims, The Human Centipede II offers up 12, one of him whom is a pregnant woman that's repeatedly beaten. And where the first movie featured one character defecating into another's mouth, here the entire 12-person centipede drops deuces after receiving an injection of laxatives. Oh yeah, and I can't avoid mentioning the scene that really forced me to avert my eyes from the screen, where the prisoners have the nerves in their knees severed in gruesome close-up. If you came out of The Human Centipede disappointed that it didn't make you barf enough, you may want to be careful how many snacks you smuggle into Part II.

Believe it or not, there is one positive thing I can say about The Human Centipede II. Amidst all of Six's "ain't I a sick mofo?" grandstanding and the movie's general artistic and narrative ugliness, there's an impressive star turn being delivered by Laurence R. Harvey, a British stage actor making his feature film debut. Harvey plays the film's central villain Martin, a grossly overweight, nearly mute and mentally challenged shut-in that lives with his batty mum in a squalid apartment. Martin's sole joy in life is watching his favorite movie, The Human Centipede (yup, this is a meta-sequel folks!) and studying the doctors' demented plan. He's such a THC fanboy that he's actually created a scrapbook filled with stills from the movie embellished with his own notes and illustrations. This tome also doubles as an amateur's guide to building your own human centipede, which is precisely what Martin intends to do, kidnapping his victims from the parking lot of his apartment building and locking them up naked in a deserted warehouse. He even goes so far as to trick one of the actresses from The Human Centipede into flying to England for an "audition with Quentin Tarantino" with the intention of making her the centipede's head.

Harvey's total commitment to this role is heroic; with his demented glare, unnerving physical presence and total lack of vanity, he creates a positively nightmarish boogeyman. The highest compliment I can pay him is that, at times, Martin feels as though he's stepped right out of a David Lynch fever dream. (Indeed, the scene where Martin has supper with the corpse of his mom -- whose head he recently bashed in with a poker -- almost feels like an outtake from Eraserhead.) The Human Centipede II is ultimately too calculated and contrived a film to offer any real scares, but Harvey's performance is genuinely terrifying.

Dirty Girl
On the heels of last week's 50/50, here comes another semi-autobiographical dramedy that attempts to mix laughs and tears. Writer/director Abe Sylvia based the movie on his own experiences growing up as a closeted teen in small-town Oklahoma circa the mid-'80s. As a teen, he idolized his high school's designated bad girl, "Dirty Debbie," and while he never had the courage to approach her in person, with this movie version of his life, he seizes the opportunity to make their fictionalized stand-ins BFFs. So "Dirty Debbie" becomes Danielle (Juno Temple), the wild-child offspring of a single mother (Milla Jovovich) and Abe becomes Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), an overweight closet case who hides his budding sexuality from his perpetually nervous mom (Mary Steenburgen) and physically abusive dad (Dwight Yoakam). After being forcibly assigned to work together for a school project, this odd couple becomes fast friends, particularly when Clarke helps Danielle solve her biggest question in life: Who her real father is. It turns out that daddy dearest is alive and living in California, so the duo jack Clarke's father's car and embarks on a cross-country road trip that, of course, doubles as a journey of self-discovery.

With apologies to Sylvia's childhood, the first fifteen minutes of Dirty Girl are flat-out awful, marred by tone-deaf performances (particularly from Jovovich and Yoakam), ugly cinematography and unpleasant, unlikeable Southern caricatures. Fortunately, the movie improves once Clarke and Danielle hit the road and we get to see some of the sadness that lurks underneath the tough, sarcastic posture they keep the rest of the world at bay. Dirty Girl is never able to toggle between comedy and drama as smoothly or effectively as 50/50, but there are some touching moments to be found here, from Clarke's sweet romance with a studly hitchhiker (Nicholas d'Agosto) they pick up along the way to the climactic scene where Danielle finally comes face to face with the father that abandoned her. Dirty Girl was clearly intended to be a coming-out vehicle for Temple -- who had a terrific supporting role in Gregg Araki's superior indie comedy Kaboom earlier this year -- and the British-born actress is quite good, although even she can't make some of the script's lamer material stick. This is an undeniably clumsy film, but a good heart beats inside its chest and that counts for something.

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