For all of the punchlines it spawned, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) remains a legitimately transgressive shlock provocation whose power to stun and repulse hasn’t diminished since its 2009 release. Body horror nightmares don’t come more deranged than Dutch director Tom Six’s film, and though many have strived to match its extreme perversity in the years following its debut, few have succeeded. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped artists from continuing to try, and the latest example of that is Netflix’s Two, a Spanish import from director Mar Targarona and producer Rodar y Rodar (The Orphanage, Julia’s Eyes) that aims for thrills by maintaining intense proximity to its central gruesomeness.
Two (out now) is an efficient and stripped-down affair that opens with a close-up of an eye belonging to Sara (Marina Gatell), who awakens in a bed beside/partially on top of a stranger who she’ll later learn is named David (Pablo Derqui). Neither Sara nor David know each other, or where they are, or how they got there. What they do quickly deduce, however, is that they can’t simply get up and leave, because every time they try to move, they feel intense pain in their lower abdomens. A few moments’ worth of twisting and turning reveals the source of their discomfort: they’ve been physically connected just above the waist via giant sutures that have created a fleshy link that’s as firm and unbreakable as it is shocking.
Panic understandably sets in almost immediately, especially for Sara, whose initial instinct is to blame David for their state of affairs. This makes no sense, of course; David is just as much a victim of this monstrous adhesion as she is. Yet it’s a believable response for someone in the throes of frightened anxiety, and Two repeatedly finds Sara failing to make sense of her situation and impulsively falling back on the notion that David must be responsible for it. David, on the other hand, is a tad more levelheaded about his circumstances, albeit no less scared. Further heightening their fear is the fact that, during an initial conversation, they can’t come up with a single thing that they share in common: he’s a 38-year-old orphan who grew up poor, went to public school and works at the port; she’s a well-to-do wife who’s five years his junior, attended a private school, and is employed at a clothing store.
Cuca Canals, Christian Molina and Mike Hostench’s script elicits squirms from David and Sara’s Frankensteinian attachment and mystery from the protagonists’ ignorance about why they’ve been selected for this experiment, much less deliberately paired with the other. With regards to the former, director Targarona keeps shots of the duo’s sutured area to a relative minimum, the better to keep viewers imagining it. Instead, she focuses on the anguished expressions of her main characters, sticking tight to their faces in order to place us right alongside—if not in-between—them as a means of heightening our engagement with their freaked-out plight. When not getting close to them, she fixates on the contortionist maneuvers they employ to get around the bedroom in which they’ve found themselves—moves that are tricky, uncomfortable, and more than slightly erotic in nature.
David and Sara’s predicament is inherently sexualized, and Two plays that up, not only visually but in terms of their dynamic. Harried and perplexed, the makeshift couple cope by searching their setting for clues, as well as by occasionally drowning out their screams and tears with passionate kisses—another seemingly irrational reaction to traumatic crisis that still rings as a true-enough manifestation of their reflexive desire to temporarily escape thinking about, or dealing with, their freakish position. More peculiar is that whenever their lips meet, the lights in the room go out, suggesting that the person behind this scheme would prefer they stay familiar but not too familiar. Whoever has stuck David and Sara together clearly wants them to abide by a certain set of rules, although those regulations are almost impossible to parse from the reality at hand.
As one might expect from this scenario, everything in Two comes in doubles, from creepy paintings on the wall to bibles in the dresser, suggesting that the perpetrator of this heinousness has a severe numerical infatuation. Director Targarona slowly teases out details about Sara and David in order to propel them toward a grand revelation about what’s befallen them, but not without also indulging in some predictably discomforting turns of events. The highlight of those moments comes early, when David and Sara confess to each other that they both have to use the restroom, and are forced to squat between the other’s legs while they sit on the toilet. That they can’t help but momentarily chuckle at this nonsense proves one of a handful of instances in which the film cops to its own macabre absurdity, and consequently engenders our sympathy for David and Sara’s dilemma.
At a lean and spry 71 minutes, Two doesn’t take long before beginning to drop bombshells about the person orchestrating this insanity. Considering the proceedings’ tantalizing set-up, those answers turn out to be fairly pedestrian, and steer the film away from the bleak nihilism of The Human Centipede, which is its most obvious spiritual predecessor. That said, if Targarona and company land on a rather easy explanation for their insanity, they nonetheless make sure to lace their finale with a twist (not to be spoiled here) that adds an extra layer of nastiness to the entire endeavor. This surprise is treated almost too cavalierly—its impact on David and Sara ignored in favor of more pressing moment-to-moment life-and-death matters—yet it’s in keeping with the action’s general sick sense of humor.
“We’re well and truly fucked,” grouses David early on in Two, and the prescience of that statement becomes impossible to deny by tale’s conclusion. A bit of focused, frenzied exploitation cinema, Targarona’s film delivers what it promises with enough skill and wit to provide a temporary rush, even if—between its brevity and its mildly underwhelming last act—it’s too insubstantial to truly scar.