SEPTIC MAN – Fantastic Fest Review
When is a man made of poo more than just the sum of his feces-encrusted parts?
This seems to be the question at the heart of Septic Man, the latest film from Canadian director Jesse T. Cook (Monster Brawl) and screenwriter/novelist Tony Burgess (Pontypool). A strange, shit-covered body horror metaphor for the way ambition can consume the middle class while its members struggle in their attempts to rise to the top, there are some interesting ideas presented amidst all of the scatological stabs at horror. Unfortunately, the film never seems to build enough narrative strength to help pull itself up out of the sewer; a quite juvenile joke taking itself much too seriously and, in the end, forgetting to include a punchline.
From its opening frames, Septic Man presents itself as overbearingly sullen. While the initial vomit-stained set piece is probably what most would expect from a movie containing a reference to bodily waste in the title, the ensuing tale is set in a constantly overcast, downtrodden little town. There is a virus plaguing the water supply of the blue collar borough of Collingwood (New Jersey?); one that wreaks such havoc on the GI system of its hosts that they die seizing violently in a pool of their own excrement. This is the stuff Troma movies are made of, but instead of succumbing to its own sophomoric premise, Septic Man instead goes for the “gritty realism” of avian bird flu victims’ final diarrhea spouting moments.
Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to our would-be hero, Jack (Jason David Brown, doing triple-duty as star, production designer and art director), the waste management specialist who is called in by a shady, all-knowing municipal man in black (Julian Richings). Jack is offered twenty grand up front to stay behind as his neighbors are evacuated, and the self-titled “Septic Man” takes the deal, knowing that the money can provide a better life for he and his pregnant wife, Shelley (Molly Dunsworth). The “upper management” of the town (represented by Pontypool’s Stephen McHattie as “The Mayor”) stress the importance of Jack’s job, as he is the only one who can save the town from annihilation via colon blow. And Jack, being the sewage expert, heads straight for the plant, where he finds a couple of corpses clogging the facility’s largest container. Unluckily, this massive tank becomes his new home, as he’s stabbed by a mysterious, French-speaking “giant” (Robert Maillet) who takes orders from a chainsaw-wielding ghoul known simply as Lord Auch (Tim Burd).
This is where the subtext takes over Septic Man, while the story-telling completely stalls out. Everybody is taking their orders, hoping to better their situation in life. Jack takes instruction from middle-management, while the giant heeds Lord Auch’s every beck and call, going as far as to sharpen his master’s teeth with a massive file. And as Jack continues to rot away in his waste-filled tomb, he becomes what he has always attempted to rid his town of — a giant turd. Transforming into a seemingly Brundlefly-inspired sack of pustule-encrusted grossness (to be fair, the effects by The Brothers Gore, Jeff and Jason Derushie, are pretty solid), Jack has become “all-consumed” by his work. And while certainly on-the-nose, the symbolism is certainly there.
Sad to say, Burgess and Cook’s decision to keep their newly minted monster down in the depths leaves Septic Man spinning its mud tires. Instead of exploring its low-concept or hidden truths any further, the film opts to simply depict Jack’s struggle to survive under the oppressive reign of Lord Auch. As the “Septic Man” accepts his fate, howling at the moon in hopes of selling t-shirts to self-serious Lloyd Kaufman fans everywhere, the movie completely sputters out, building to an anti-climactic wave of nothingness that is sure to leave audiences completely underwhelmed. It’s a true shame, as the intentions to find art in “low places” are undoubtedly present, just hamstrung by a humorless execution.
Correction: The article originally stated that Manborg director Steven Kostanski did the makeup for this film. The Brother’s Gore, Jeff and Jason Derushie actually can take credit for the solid work.