FANTASTIC FEST 2013 MOVIE REVIEW – ‘SEPTIC MAN’

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Buried meets The Toxic Avenger – That’s the high concept the press release for the literally shitty Septic Man touts the new film as, and it’s an admittedly intriguing one, taking the austere claustrophobia of the former and marrying it with the transgressive sensibiities of the latter. The problem is, Septic Man is nothing but concept. It’s as if director Jesse Thomas Cook and writer Tony Burgess had the brilliant idea to find two random movies to mash together then decided to lean on the WTF?-ness of such a combo, wipe their hands, and call it a day. The result is a film that is simply lazy, monotonous, and downright dull.

The opening scenes of Septic Man show a woman in a bathroom so grimy the Saw franchise would retch, expelling fluids from both ends of her body. It’s a gross, scatological and attention-grabbing opening, one that promises the kind of no-hold-barred experience that only the bravest of the brave will be able to stomach, whether it be a film as dankly brutal as that nasty production design or as twisted and outrageous in its humor as such bathroom shenanigans promise. Except Septic Man delivers neither. Instead it decides to plop its hero in a single, albeit grody, location and then spin its wheels until the end credits roll.

The town of Collinwood is plagued by a water-borne sickness so bad that the military is forced to evacuate it. Jack (Jason Brown) is a plumber apparently so adept and so committed to his job, even with a pregnant wife at home, that he is approached by one of those mysteriously whispery secret government agent types (gaunt Canadian genre vet Julian Richings) and offered a cool $200k to get to the bottom of the pollution crisis. Jack traces it to a disused sewer store tank filled with dead bodies, but as he’s investigating, he’s trapped in the tank by two malevolent brothers (Tim Burd and Robert Maillett) who reside in the halls of the sewage treatment plant…where he remains for the rest of the film.

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Already, the film is a lackluster experience, beset by a cheap, poorly-written vibe that gives it the feel of a budget-deprived Canadian TV series (anyone who’s witnessed one of these things knows what I am talking about.) But its here, when Jack gets locked in his gunk ridden prison that Septic Man grinds to a halt. Having come up with the concept and driven it to where it needed to be, neither Cook nor Burgess know how to develop it.

So instead the remainder of the movie consists of Jack sitting in mire, attempting to escape and generally screaming at his captors as he slowly turns into an oozy, boil-ridden creature that resembles the early stages of Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly. Occasionally, the inaction is broken up by hallucinatory visions Jack has of his wife giving birth or of him conversing through the grate above with the more sympathetic of the two brothers, Maillott’s dim-witted gentle giant. But it’s not enough to alleviate the tedium of a  film that doesn’t know what the fuck to do with itself.

Septic Man is caught between the B-movie corn of Cook’s previous feature (the awful monsters-go-wrasslin’ pic Monster Brawl) and the moodier, more serious tone Burgess adopted for the far superior, far more idiosyncratic zombie pic Pontypool. Torn between two tones with no comfortable ground between, void of any meat on its storytelling bones,  lacking personality and indifferently acted and shot, Septic Man ends up being simply bogged down in the muck.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

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About Author

Johnny Donaldson

Johnny Donaldson is an actor, writer, foodie, and raconteur who’s been immersed in the geek world since childhood, especially when The X-Files changed his life. (Fox Mulder is his Han Solo.) A published film critic (his college-era movie reviews can be found in the archives of rottentomatoes.com) and a film producer with two films under his belt, Johnny likes kitty cats, coffee, the color purple (not the movie, the literal color purple), dark microbrews and good horror/scifi/fantasy and superhero movies. And occasionally long walks on the beach, when it’s not too hot.

  • Joy

    Have you ever visited a set Johnny? ‘THE SEPTIC MAN’ ! The name says it all. The interest begins there … ! or as in your case it didn’t.

    • madz

      Johnny’s actually been in a few movies, so yes, he has been on a set…