Gummo ★★★★½

I’m pretty confident in saying no film makes me feel as sick, dirty, grubby and in need of a shower as Gummo. It’s terrifying - basically a horror film. A tornado has blown through a small American town and left behind a sea of grease, a town full of emotionless mutants. The sickness basically seeps into the celluloid itself, as images distort themselves and the camera drags on behind lost characters existing for nothing. Kids left to their own devices with little supervision. All that’s left to do is drink beer, or get high, or amuse yourself some other way. Lift weights before you’re fully developed so your shoulder blades pop out. Bathe in mud. Make your nipples pointier by putting duct tape over them and ripping it off (is this a thing?) It’s desperately sad and despite it’s anarchic atmosphere it’s an incredibly well made film. Korine might sometimes just go for weird instead of substance - the best example being the scene he himself appears in with the midget - but mostly this is a dreadfully honest look at poverty. There’s no hope here. One of the final scenes is a character singing “jesus loves me” completely sincerely and of course Korine plays this for complete irony, because even if there was a god he certainly doesn’t give a shit about anyone in this town, who are destined to waste away. Either die young, or become one of the sad old men witnessed throughout. There’s the guy who loses an arm wrestling match and proceeds to destroy a chair while a bunch of incredibly drunk hicks cheer him on, and earlier there’s a horrifying story told by a girl regarding her father molesting her frequently, ending with a still image of this monster staring into the camera. Enough to send chills down your spine. There’s actually a notable shot late in the film that feels completely alien to everything else. Practically every shot is handheld, shaky and close up to a characters’ lurid face but this one tracking shot in the bowling alley stands out. It kind of feels like that famous shot in Taxi Driver where Scorsese moves his camera away from Travis’ phone call. Here, Korine tracks around the corner, past a deaf couple arguing before settling on Sevigny and her friends who discuss the two. At first I thought the couple might have been a metaphor for society’s blind eye to towns like this that have been destroyed and have no way of sustaining themselves. But then it dawned on me that not a single character in the film has ever complained about their predicament, or worried about their future or even felt self-aware at all. There’s no cries to the clouds begging for mercy. Are they even aware of the situation they’re in? If you’ve grown up in a town like this your whole life why would you know or expect any different? And maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.

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