The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), American tourists in Germany, were invited by a boy to attend a party. But on the way there, their car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Desperate for help, they decided to walk to the nearest house they could find and telephone for help. The two unlucky women knocked on Dr. Heiter’s (Dieter Laser) door. It just so happened that the doctor, a renowned surgeon for dividing siamese twins, was in need of human subjects for his latest experiment. Written and directed by Tom Six, when the film started, I thought it was completely hopeless. The acting was egregiously laughable, the script was terrible because the characters lacked internal dialogue, and the kidnapping happened on a cold, foggy, rainy night. On top of that, Lindsay and Jenny made the worst decisions. When asked by Dr. Heiter if they were alone, they decided to be honest instead of saying that the rest of their friends were waiting for them in the car. When offered water, they made no hesitation to drink it. Not for one second did I believe that the girls were from New York. They lacked common sense. However, there was something mesmerizing about how the twisted events played out. When the girls had finally woken from the effects of the drugged water, I was convinced that the director purposely made the first fifteen minutes to be comical. He was aware of the conventions of the horror genre and he wanted to make fun of it. The real horror was thrown on our lap when the doctor explained to his subjects, using images from a projector, what his experiment was about. Although I felt sick to my stomach, admittedly, I was curious how it would turn out. The best scenes were when Lindsay ran around the house to look for an escape route. I was glad that Six remained true to Lindsay’s character. She just wasn’t a very bright person. When given the chance between going through an open door that led to freedom and saving her friend in the basement, she chose the latter. A smart person would have ran like the wind through that door and not stopped until she found help. Through delayed gratification, you can save someone later by not saving them now. Instead, she was stuck trying to carry her friend’s body up the stairs and around the house. Didn’t it occur to her that Jenny was recently drugged and would not regain consciousness any time soon? But I digress. Maybe she just panicked. I must commend Laser for playing such a cold and utterly unsympathetic character. Every look, body movement, and silence between his words was terrifying. The film offered no reason why he wanted to make a so-called human centipede. Perhaps it was simply because he had an innately curious scientific mind and he just wanted to see if he could do it. “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” was a shocking, disgusting, grotesque horror picture. But it was also, and more importantly, brazen, darkly comic and inventive. The more I looked into the details of its craft, such as having a Japanese character which was most likely a wink to equally twisted Japanese horror films, the more impressed I was with it.
Home Movie (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
After moving their family to house in the middle of the woods, a minister (Adrian Pasdar) and a psychiatrist (Cady McClain) eventually realized that their children (Amber Joy Williams, Austin Williams) began acting strange. At first the children killed their pet fish and put it in a sandwich. Then they put a frog in a vise grip. And then they cruxified the house cat. The events after that became so horrific, I could hardly look at the screen. The children didn’t even speak a word until more than half-way through the movie. When they did, they did so in codes. Written and directed by Christopher Denham, “Home Movie” used the hand-held technique of “The Blair Witch Project” and “[REC].” Unfortunately, it wasn’t as effective because the execution was weak; it felt confused when it should have been confident given its daring material. I thought the picture spent too much of its time focusing on Pasdar acting goofy and putting on ridiculous costumes. The parts I enjoyed most were when Pasdar used his faith to find answers regarding what was happening with his children. The same goes for McClain–the scenes when she used her psychology background were interesting to me because I had some idea about was she was talking about and the influential names she cited (although that Rorschach test begged the question of validity and reliability). The film would have been so much stronger if it had focused on their varying parenting methods and ways to get some answers regarding their children’s condition. I didn’t mind much of the “realistic,” low quality and shaky feel of the camera because I understood what the director was trying to achieve. It’s the writing and the way that the story unfolded were the problems for me. Even though I don’t like watching movies about children hurting and killing others, I have to commend this independent film for trying to do something different. Admittedly, I was really disturbed by some of the scenes but I was glad that the filmmakers cut certain images and reactions out. If one is interested in watching something very creepy, sometimes disturbing and not mainstream by any means, “Home Movie” might be enjoyable. I must also note that this film is not for people who like movies with defined closures.
The Cove (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
When I saw the trailer for this documentary, directed by Louie Psihoyos, I knew I had to see it because the fact that people actually kill dolphins for whatever reason was shocking news to me. Not only did I find it shocking, I felt sort of embarrassed for people in general due to the complete lack of respect for creatures that are established to be very intelligent and have some sort of self-awareness. Dolphins may look like fish but they are actually more similar to us than the kinds of fish that we eat. The trailer made it look like the movie was exciting because the activists actually had to sneak in in the middle of the night to certain areas around the cove to hide cameras in rocks, trees and underwater as guards patrolled the place. It was able to deliver that level of suspense throughout the picture and more. I was impressed with this movie because not only was the film very informative, it was also educational. It wasn’t only about Japanese fishermen in Taijii killing dolphins. It was also about how the dead carcasses were labeled and sold as other types of fish in supermarkets, the levels of toxicity dolphin meat has, the effects of mercury to newborns, and how we as a society shaped this idea that dolphins are cute and can perform tricks so it’s alright to capture them. Richard O’Barry, an animal trainer who captured the five dolphins on the television show called “Flipper,” really made me think because he shared some insight and the experiences he had with dolphins. One of the many scenes that really touched my heart was when he told the story about how one of the dolphins on the show swam up to him, looked at him and committed suicide. And then explained that dolphins breathed consciously, unlike us humans. The dolphin was so depressed because it had been taken out of its natural habitat for so long that it chose to end its life. Another scene that really got to me was when one of the dolphins that was stabbed began to swim ashore as blood was coming out of it. In the beginning, I thought that maybe it’s part of the Japanese culture to eat dolphins. After all, I came from a different background so I don’t exactly know their customs. But then the film talked about how most of the people in Taijii, Japan had no idea that these dolphin killings were happening. I thought Psihoyos’ picture really got its bases covered because each of the question I had in my mind was answered. “The Cove” has a sense of urgency and I believe it should be seen by everyone because this local (though I’m guessing it happens in other parts of the world as well but we just don’t know exactly where) scenario of killing dolphins will have a significant effect on the entire ecosystem. I will never forget the images I’ve seen from this film and if you decide to see it, prepare yourself.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This movie left me emotionally drained because I was able to feel a whirlwind of emotions as it unfolded. At first it was about Andrew Bagby’s murder in the hands of the psychotic ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner but then it changes gears twenty minutes later. It then begins to document the struggles that David Bagby and Kathleen Bagby went through in order to take care (and gain custody) of Zachary Bagby, Andrew and Shirley’s son, while at the same time trusting the law to do its job by putting Shirley away for the overwhelming evidence of pre-meditated murder. As the film went on, the rug was pulled from my feet once again and the documentary-family portrait becomes something so much more profound and heartbreaking. I can see how some people could point out and claim that the film is a bit amateurish and shouldn’t be trusted fully because it comes from a close friend of the Bagbys. But considering the many years of custody battles and emotional rollercoasters, I thought the way Kurt Kuenne, the director, told the story was very personal (and sometimes too personal; there were some interviews that made me feel like I shouldn’t be watching or hearing what they’ve got to say) and the amateurish production reflected that. It’s also effecient because I noticed that every twenty minutes or so, the audiences get to learn something new and reevaluate the things that were explored prior to that point. As for the criticism regarding its lack of objectivity, being fair is not the film’s purpose at all. Its purpose is to show how much the Bagbys are loved and Canadian government’s inaction regarding a woman who they claim to be “not a danger to society.” Although I haven’t experienced the pain of losing a friend in the hands of another, I found it easy to relate to the people in this documentary via imagining myself in their situation. Those scenes when David and Kathleen were willing face the murderer of their son just so that they could spend time with their grandson really got to me. I honestly don’t know how they got through it or if I could ever go through it if something similar happens to me. I thought this film was impressive in many respects and it reminded me of the revelatory “Capturing the Friedmans.”