I hope the southern states never hire Harmony Korine to direct their tourism advertisements. Here is a filmmaker who has gone to enormous lengths promoting their most unhealthy, vile side. There is a reason this isn’t called Trash Humpers: Cancun. The setting that seemed to make the most sense for a project like this is Nashville, Tennessee.
Freddy Krueger famously once said: Every town has an Elm Street. But if every town had Trash Humpers, that would be the real nightmare. In addition to the obvious fact this film is about people in old man masks who hump trash, peer into people’s windows at night with flashlights, and vandalize the most destitute parts of the city, they aren’t even the most troubling people walking around. For all we know they’re just passing through.
The real trash humpers are the residents they encounter, folks who are about as authentically disturbing as it gets. We meet a little boy around 10 years old. He shows the Trash Humpers how to suffocate a baby doll with plastic wrap. He does it with gusto and real attitude. Then he shows how to brain the doll using a hammer, laughing the whole time. Another guy we meet lies on his bed, explaining his exercise routine. When he’s on his back, he lifts his neck up for 40 seconds, then brings it back down. He flips over on his stomach, and with his head over the edge of the bed holds it up for 40 seconds, then brings it back down. I guess it’s a more modest version of the P90X work out. From the belly he’s got it doesn’t appear to help much.
There’s other people like this who exist in their own reality, young and old. That’s why this isn’t just about people in masks humping mail boxes and garbage bins. This movie is also about the pitiful, sad lives of the people in the South. And I think Harmony’s intent is to catalog that area. Harmony Korine is to the south as Charles Darwin was to the Galapagos Islands. It’s a strange, inviting place for him. It’s given him a name and it is a territory that will be associated with his legacy.
I remember seeing Harmony’s “Gummo” and having a similar experience, raising similar questions in my mind. Where did he find these people? How did they get here? What decisions did they make that brought them to live in these conditions?
In spite of how artistically barren it is watching dumpsters getting raped and tree branches being orally serviced, sometimes art is just about who gets there first. You have to give credit to Harmony for bringing elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the suburbs, and filming it on VHS.
The only moment we encounter any form of real ideology for the Trash Humpers occurs during a drive at night through the suburbs. The driver, who always wears a Confederate flag t-shirt, speaks to the camera about how he can smell and feel the sad lives the people around him lead and how trapped in their existence they are. When they’re all dead and buried, the Trash Humpers will just be getting their second wind.
It’s a reassuring thought. Especially when you consider that this might just be the beginning. Maybe we’ll see Trash Humper halloween costumes, or teenager misfit types who dress up as Trash Humpers and film themselves throughout America, haunting its most destitute, creepiest cities. Then it evolves into a movement. They form a political party. They try to raise hell wearing Confederate flags and spewing racist propaganda. Etc. But probably not. This isn’t a film that seems like it could inspire much of anything. The tone of the film is too elegiac, sad, mournful. With all the mayhem the Trash Humpers commit inside desolate homes, beating up TVs, humping bins, they affect nothing. They seem to sleep under highways, taking up space in wastelands where nobody cares, nobody really sees them.
In other words, they’re perfectly harmless. Right?