Borgman (2013)

Borgman (2013) movie poster

director Alex van Warmerdam
viewed: 06/25/2015

Borgman is a modern Dutch fairy tale of sorts, a metaphorical, metaphysical nightmare, dark and comic and strange.

The film opens with a witch hunt of sorts, a priest and armed men hunt in the woods for a homeless-looking man who is hiding in a well-concealed hole in the ground.  As he escapes them, he contacts others, initially trying through cell phones, but eventually escaping into an upscale suburbia into which he attempts to ingratiate himself.  He knocks on doors and eventually finds a home that begrudgingly invites him in.

Big mistake.

Who and what Borgman is isn’t really ever fully explained.  There is some suggestion that he is a trope of some ancient lore, some demon or spirit or evil, but he and his group of fellows are both ancient and modern, infecting this wealthy suburban family with fears, ills, hatred, doubt, and eventual downfall.  What his darkness represents is never fully explained, how real he is, how metaphorical his infestation.  It’s eerie.  And it works.

What confounded me a little more was exactly what failure the family demonstrated that brought him on them rather than others.  In some homes, the door is shut coldly in his face.  In fact, the father of the house he comes to infect initially beats him and drives him off.  It is the mother’s sympathy for him that invites him in for a bath and soup, and eventually the nature of his simple, subtle invasion perverts minds and hearts as he whispers stories or insinuates their dreams.

At one point, the family consider their vulnerability because they have it so good.  But this aspect is also somewhat unclear.  Not that it utterly matters, in a sense.  That evil and downfall can come upon anyone, particularly a nuclear family with a nice home, a live-in au pair, and a big garden, the vulnerability of life and normality.

It’s a striking and clever film.  Really, one of the more interesting new films I’ve seen in a while.

Meet the Fokkens (2011)

Meet the Fokkens (2011) movie poster

directors Gabrielle Provaas, Rob Schröder
viewed: 07/31/2014

After watching Mutantes (2009), a documentary about Feminism and pornography, I figured it might be as good a time as any to watch the Dutch documentary Meet the Fokkens about twin sister prostitutes who have worked the red light district of Amsterdam for over 40 years.

Frankly, I found Meet the Fokkens to be one of the more depressing films that I’ve seen in some time.

It’s an earnest and humanist documentary, telling the stories of Louise and Martine Fokken, largely if not entirely in their own words.  Directors Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schröder allow the old ladies to jabber on about their business, the work of prostitution, and eventually more of their own history and how their lives came to be the way they are.

The women are in their late sixties at the time of the film, and probably most people who see these older, overweight ladies, soliciting business and playing coy are going to react to the incongruity of their age and body types in the business of sex.  In fact, I think that the whole American distribution of the film, which retitled it as a play on the film Meet the Fockers (2004), play up to comedic response, in stark contrast to the reality of the story.

The ladies are not miserable.  They enjoy life and one another and their community.  One of the women (I could hardly tell the two apart) even has a show of her paintings in a cafe toward the end of the film.  But the reality of their lives were that one sister became pregnant and married at a young age and was then forced into prostitution by her abusive husband.  For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, her twin joined her in solidarity when the family and friends shunned them.

Even in Holland where prostitution is legal and the red light district is a tourist attraction, according to the Fokkens, they still worked under systems and rules enforced by kingpins.  At one point they opened their own independent brothel but were forced out of business by government and other competitors who didn’t want to release their stranglehold on the industry.

So, now we have these elderly ladies plying their trade as they push on becoming septuagenarians.  Can’t retire because life is too expensive, but carry on.  It’s true that the sisters do not bemoan life and make the most of what they have and have done, but it’s a sad story at the core, not a joyful and happy one.  And in some ways, I would suggest at least, the marketing of the American release verges on Exploitation.  I don’t think the film itself is exploitative. Provaas and Schröder let the women have their dignity, even humor, humanity and more, also not trying to draw some falsely over-happy slant on their subjects.

The film, though, did depress me.  Aging, cruelty, exploitation…it made me sad.

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

Human Centipede 2 (2011) movie poster

director Tom Six
viewed: 03/03/2012

Cult phenomenon that it was so due to become, it’s little surprise that the 2009 horror film The Human Centipede (First Sequence) begot a sequel.  Much like the original “human centipede,” director Tom Six promises that The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) is but the middle segment of a trilogy, with the intent that the films will continue to get more gruesome, revolting, and explicit.  Like I am so often, “in for a penny, in for a pound” on these types of things, I did consider it relatively requisite to go through with actually watching it.

In a move that is semi-clever/a tad post-modern, The Human Centipede 2 starts out with the premise that the original was just a movie.  And part 2 is about a pathetic English parking garage night watchman who has seen the film and now dreams of making it his reality.  Unlike the clean, pseudo-science of the doctor of the film, he’s all sleaze, sexual torture, and duct tape.  His centipede is one that MacGyver might be able to put together with the things found in an alley.

Shot in color but transfered to black and white, the film focuses on the terrible world of this man, his abusive mother, his psychologically damaged past, and his grand artistic dream: a 12-segmented human centipede.  He has to settle for 10, but he gets there with more violence and more explicit gross-out, cringe-inducing ways than the original film.  Six claimed that he wanted to make the first film “look like My Little Pony” in comparison.  In that sense, mission relatively accomplished.

Laurence R. Harvey stars as the flubby little man in a role that is about as unsexy as you can get, with his large beer belly, his torpid eyes, and his seamy slimy skin.  While Six tries to give him a backstory, and some sympathy, he’s also fairly invested in his post-modernist angle on this film too.  Not only is the man a copycat killer of the first film, but he somehow manages to lure Ashlynn Yennie, one of the “stars” of the first film, out to London under the pretext of a film opportunity, having Yennie play a version of herself, commenting occasionally on the earlier film.

I don’t need to detail the “horrors” depicted in the film.  I stomach a lot of gruesome stuff easily and I found myself feeling somewhat nauseated through the film.  Again, mission relatively accomplished.

I think it’s interesting that this film, pretty much an exploitation film, has entered enough of the pop culture world to be joked about on South Park and infested in more people’s brains that the average film of such potential obscurity.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Tom Six
viewed: 05/08/10

It’s often said that they don’t make movies like they used to, but in the case of The Human Centipede (First Sequence), I have to say that they didn’t make movies like this before, either.  The film, whose title is intriguing enough in itself, is a case of almost pure concept and then the attempt to make a movie out of it.  The concept is even more bizarre and outre than the title begins to imply.  Read forward if you have the stomach for it.

We have a semi-classic horror trope of a mad scientist.  But this is a mad scientist with and idea that it’s hard to imagine Mary Shelley ever considering.  This mad scientist has a dream of creating a human centipede, by way of plastic surgery, and more than that, he wants them connected from mouth to anus, creating a single gastric system.  Yes, indeed.

Influenced perhaps by David Cronenberg and more recent Japanese horror films, with perhaps a dash of “torture porn” thrown in, writer/director Tom Six has a film whose concept is definitely on the outside of even some of the more deranged and surprising films that have perhaps ever come out.  And this would be particularly impressive if the film could quite live up to the concept.

The scientist is a German doctor (with a little Nazi experimentation in his core) who abducts a young Japanese man, a truck driver (whom he deems unfit), and two traveling American bimbos to make his great creation.  He explains his plan to the frightened and angry captives and then performs his surgery on them, successfully creating his human centipede, which he then attempts to train like his previous creation, a Rottweiler centipede (or 3 Dog, I think he calls it).

The film isn’t poorly or cheaply produced, and the mad doctor, played by Dieter Laser, is creepy right out of David Lynch’s central casting.   It’s a reasonably well-made affair, with developing tensions and few cheap thrills.  It’s just that with such an outsized concept, in a sense, despite some surgical scenes and a fair amount of shots with the bandaged centipede whimpering and screaming in Japanese (he got to be the head), it doesn’t perhaps become gruesome or explicit enough (or perhaps have enough more story or logic behind the concept.)  Something is missing, and I don’t mean that it needed more segments (though a sequel is supposedly in the works with a 12-person creature).

It’s far freakier than your average disturbing horror film, which I am guessing that you’ve assumed if you’ve even read this far.  And the concept is so bizarre, bizarre enough to draw me to it, as with others with perhaps too warped of a sense of entertainment, that  it’s apt to give it credit for what it’s got going on there.  It’s certainly not for the squeamish.