Shot on degraded VHS with no discernable narrative (much like an unedited home video tape), the eponymous trash humpers – a ragtag bunch of white trash octogenarians – cruise around innocuous, non-specific locations in the American south shouting profanities, revelling in rubbish heaps and having ‘sex’ with everything from garbage cans to light posts. A landfill Crash (1996) if you will. Other than some chance encounters with like-minded freaks, very little else happens apart from a couple of murders (committed off-screen) enacted towards the film’s conclusion. whilst Korine spends the majority of the running time behind the camera incessantly crowing like a rooster, occasionally pausing to deliver crass obscenities along the lines of, “fuck and suck that trash pussy.”
Harmony Korine’s previous feature, Mister Lonely, explored people’s fascination with inhabiting celebrities through the wearing of replica outfits and re-enacting the routines famously associated with them. The theme of hiding, and inadvertently revealing, one’s identity behind the mask of someone else re-emerges – albeit in unintentionally diluted form – in Trash Humpers where Korine, his wife and a handful of friends don grotesque masks bearing the type of weathered leathery faces that belong more to the world of horror cinema than that of real-life pensioners. Their use creates a menacing, often demented, atmosphere that fits in comfortably with the overall mood and aesthetic but their employment, one strongly suspects, is the result of nothing more than a desire to ‘gross out‘ the audience with no other perceivable purpose. Whereas Mister Lonely, for all of its faults, did at least pose some interesting ideas the same cannot be said of Korine’s follow-up which is more endurance test than artistic experiment.
If the synopsis of Trash Humpers may fleetingly appear to be amusing, actually sitting through its entirety certainly isn’t. The goodwill afforded to Korine will be challenged to say the least, with most probably irrevocably decimated after 80 minutes of utter banality and what ultimately equates to a Hollywood-outsider tantrum. In this sense, Trash Humpers best achievement may well be in its use as an example of what constitutes the direct opposite of Avatar, or as a challenge for anyone who purports to despise the mainstream and feels the need to prove it. Indeed, Trash Humpers could arguably be screened in a gallery rather than a cinema where it could more readily be dismissed as utter tripe. In whatever context, John Lennon’s famous quip that the ‘avant-garde is French for bullshit’ would be apt in both cases.
There are curious similarities between Trash Humpers and Lukas Moodyson’s A Hole In My Heart, both their fourth respective directorial outing and petulant act of commercial self-sabotage: the switch in technology (Moodyson used digital handheld cameras) and the adoption of an abstract, avant-garde, structure that openly seeks to frustrate the audience and bark at the boundaries of taste. For Moodyson it signalled the beginning of his professional decline having once been cited by Ingmar Bergman as the best filmmaker in the world following the release of Fucking Amal. Korine, on the other hand, received equal high praise from Werner Herzog who was captivated by the incorporation of a slice of bacon tacked to a bathroom wall in Gummo. Judging by the dismal merits of Trash Humpers, one suspects Korine might well be aspiring to a familiar career trajectory to that of Moodyson‘s. Perhaps given time Korine will emerge from the rubbish heap, reflect, brush off the remnants of Trash and deliver something worthy of his abilities which have been sadly neglected this time around.