By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: The Catechism Cataclysm and Septien

The Catechism Cataclysm


One of the weirdest — and funniest — films I saw at Sundance was The Catechism Cataclysm. I’m not sure it’s even possible to discuss this film in a way that makes sense, because I’m not sure the film itself even does make sense, but it sure as hell made me laugh out loud a lot.

In a nutshell, the film is about a priest named Father Billy (Steve Little), who gets sent on early vacation because he’s telling weird stories at Bible study that have noting to do with the Bible. Father Billy gets in touch with Robbie, his older sister’s rocker ex-boyfriend, who he completely idolized in high school. Now Robbie is all grown up and hasn’t achieved anything as wonderful with his life as Father Billy imagines. But they meet for breakfast at a local diner, and Father Billy persuades Robbie — who has nothing better to do, really — to accompany him on a canoe trip.

The pair get lost on the river, meet up with a pair of giggling-but-sinister Japanese girls named Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who are traveling down the river with a large, silent black man named Jim, and from there things just get curiouser and curiouser in ways that I really can’t explain without giving too much away. But trust me, it’s all weird as hell.

What I found most interesting about The Catechism Cataclysm, though, is the way in which it weaves the idea of storytelling into and around itself, from Father Billy’s inappropriate parables at the beginning, to the stories Robbie tells Father Billy as they’re floating down the river, to the deliberately exaggerated reference to Mark Twain. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Also, there’s a song toward the end that’s so hilariously blasphemous that my inner Catholic schoolgirl kept casting nervous glances at the ceiling, hoping to avoid any divine retribution that might descend upon the theater. At the same time, I was laughing so hard I nearly choked on my Vitamin Water.

The film is directed by Todd Rohal and exec produced by North Carolina School of the Arts alums David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride and Matt Reilly through their production company, Rough House Pictures, which, the press notes tell me, was founded in order to support other filmmakers in “creating comedy films slightly to the left of center.” I’d say this is a bit more than “slightly” to the left of center, but there you go.

This is one of those films you just have to check out for yourself to believe. Go into it expecting that it won’t make sense, or look at it all as a wildly hilarious metaphor for … I’m not sure what. But probably, you’ll stay engaged. And almost definitely, you’ll get a good laugh.

______________________________________________

Septien


Like The Catechism Cataclysm, Septien is one of the stranger films I saw at Sundance. But where Catechism was just funny-weird, and didn’t feel like it was reaching for anything much deeper than the interweaving of storytelling in a crazy way, Septien was weird for me in a way that was more meaningful, probably in part because it tells a much tighter story, and doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be odd just for the sake of oddness.

I was surprised by how much I liked this film based solely on its program description. It kind of reminded me of Dogtooth in a way; Dogtooth was set in Greece, Septien in the American South, but both explore similar themes around repressed sexuality and insularity by using a tightly controlled bizarrity of tone that you just don’t see pulled off well in a lot of films.

The general story here: Brothers Ezra (Robert Longstreet) and Amos (Onur Tukel) and their gentle, not-too-bright farmhand Wilbur (Jim Willingham) live on a remote, bedraggled farm. Long-lost brother Cornelius (played by director Mike Tully) returns abruptly after an 18 year absence, but refuses to speak about why he disappeared, or why he’s returned now. Con, as his brothers call him, is restless and wandering, unable to settle down. He spends his days wandering around town looking like the Unabomber with his hoodie, sunglasses and full-on hipster-Taliban beard, hustling the locals in pick-up games of basketball and tennis

Meanwhile Amos creates disturbing pictures of murder, mayhem and demons in the barn, and Ezra plays controlling mother to his brothers and Wilbur, wearing frilly aprons and cleaning gloves and obsessively bleaching and scrubbing every speck of “unclean” from the house.

One day after Con’s return the household toilet regurgitates the contents of their septic tank (metaphorical for past shit clogging up the brothers’ lives? Yeah, I expect so). Enter Red Rooster (Mark Darby Robinson), a grizzled, grumpy plumber who has a questionable relationship with Savannah (Rachel Korine), a pretty young girl who may or may not be his wife and may or may not be underage. There’s also wandering preacher of sorts who shows up on the farm, but to give away any more than that about how all these pieces tie together would be to give away the heart of the film, so you’ll have to watch it for yourself to see how that all plays out.

I’ve heard Septien described here at Sundance as comedy-horror, but it’s not really either. It’s not a comedy, though it’s funny at times, mostly in ways that a many folks will find inappropriate, and it’s certainly not a horror film — I wouldn’t even classify it as “gothic horror” though that probably comes closest to defining what it is — even though it’s playing in the Midnight section here at Sundance, perhaps because they couldn’t figure out where else to put it.

Even if you’re not at Sundance, you can watch Septien at home because it’s one of the films showing in Sundance Selects VOD. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but if you’re of a particular cinematic mindset and you’re intrigued by weird but intelligent films, you should absolutely check it out. It’s crazy good.

4 Responses to “Sundance Review: The Catechism Cataclysm and Septien”

  1. BILLY CHAMARTA says:

    ok i don’t know if that really is a snuff movie but whatever it is its GROSS

  2. JMHogoff says:

    youtube musta thought it was real. It’s under investigation. What about the other socalled snuff films there. You’d think if there was a series, these guys would get caught. Get ‘em youtube, lol.

  3. Yeun says:

    Nothing original here… sad times for film, very sad times…

Leave a Reply

Quote Unquotesee all »

Julian Schnabel: Years ago, I was down there with my cousin’s wife Corky. She was wild — she wore makeup on her legs, and she had a streak in her hair like Yvonne De Carlo in “The Munsters.” She liked to paint. I had overalls on with just a T-shirt and looked like whatever. We were trying to buy a bunch of supplies with my cousin Jesse’s credit card. They looked at the credit card, and then they looked at us and thought maybe we stole the card, so they called Jesse up. He was a doctor who became the head of trauma at St. Vincent’s. They said, “There’s somebody here with this credit card and we want to know if it belongs to you.”

He said, “Well, does the woman have dyed blonde hair and fake eyelashes and look like she stepped out of the backstage of some kind of silent movie, and is she with some guy who has wild hair and is kind of dressed like a bum?”

“Yeah, that’s them.”

“Yeah, that’s my cousin and my wife. It’s okay, they can charge it on my card.”
~ Julian Schnabel Remembers NYC’s Now-Shuttered Pearl Paint

MB Cool. I was really interested in the aerial photography from Enter the Void and how one could understand that conceptually as a POV, while in fact it’s more of an objective view of the city where the story takes place. So it’s an objective and subjective camera at the same time. I know that you’re interested in Kubrick. We’ve talked about that in the past because it’s something that you and I have in common—

GN You’re obsessed with Kubrick, too.

MB Does he still occupy your mind or was he more of an early influence?

GN He was more of an early influence. Kubrick has been my idol my whole life, my own “god.” I was six or seven years old when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I never felt such cinematic ecstasy. Maybe that’s what brought me to direct movies, to try to compete with that “wizard of Oz” behind the film. So then, years later, I tried to do something in that direction, like many other directors tried to do their own, you know, homage or remake or parody or whatever of 2001. I don’t know if you ever had that movie in mind for your own projects. But in my case, I don’t think about 2001 anymore now. That film was my first “trip” ever. And then I tried my best to reproduce on screen what some drug trips are like. But it’s very hard. For sure, moving images are a better medium than words, but it’s still very far from the real experience. I read that Kubrick said about Lynch’s Eraserhead, that he wished he had made that movie because it was the film he had seen that came closest to the language of nightmares.

Matthew Barney and Gaspar Noé