There was a point in Todd Rohal's second feature, The Catechism Cataclysm, where I just couldn't stop laughing. I was being loud, obnoxious even, and I really wasn't sure what I was even laughing at or why. As an annoyed woman sitting behind me put it, "What's wrong with this jackass? There wasn't even joke. This movie makes no fucking sense."
Well, I'm now on my forth cup of coffee as I write this and it still feels like Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen are sparing in my skull. I've been staring at a blank computer screen for over an hour unable to get a good start on this review. I've resulted to pouring some Makers Mark into my cup o' Joe as I'm hoping a little hair of the dog might level me out, but honestly, I don't think it's the hangover that's hindering my ability to write about The Catechism Cataclysm.
The truth is, I agree with the woman who sat behind me. I have no idea just what the fuck it was that I watched but I know that I enjoyed the hell out of it. I've been running on fumes for 48 hours. I haven't had more than two hours of sleep at a time since the opening night screening of Hobo with a Shotgun at BUFF two weeks ago. I've been to work related events every night since then, and fortunately, or unfortunately, my work involves lots of drinking. When you're reaching the end of a three week bender, you sometimes find yourself in strange and unfamiliar places and you don't understand how you got there. I've been in a trance for days now and had to resort to pre-gaming last night's film with Four Loko just so I could be conscious enough to stay awake.
By the time I got in line for the screening, my piss was glowing in the dark, I was sweating like a Texan wino, and my BO smelled like smarties. Catechism is just the opening night film for the 2011 Philadelphia Cinefest so I already know that it's going to be a long seven days from here on in.
In addition to all of this, there were some technical difficulties that led to a thirty minute break a third of the way into the film. As you can already assume, I was swigging from the magical flask to pass the time.
Still, I don't believe my complete and utter lack of coherence can be faulted for my complete and utter inability to describe or summarize the film. I even had a (soon to be posted on Twitch) two hour long conversation with director, Rohal and actors, Rob Longstreet and Steve Little about Cataclysm that lasted until 4am, but I still don't understand the film, and neither did the people who made it.
When I pressed Todd if there's any way he could pitch the film to me, to find some way to encapsulate the story, he responded, "Luckily, I never had to pitch the film because I can't, there's no way. Generally, when I try to explain the film to people, it takes me 98 minutes, which is 12 minutes longer than the film itself."
So yeah, it's kind of like that. It's a strange little trip that's extremely bizarre and surreal without going completely over the top. It's juvenile, infantile, sacrilegious, and sometimes crude without actually being vulgar, stupid, or offensive.
The initial set up behind the film is that Steve Little plays Father William, an imbecilic priest who's pressed to take a self reflective vacation in order to find inspiration for his sermons. William uses this opportunity to go on a day long canoe trip with a burnt out concert lighting technician named Robbie. Although Robbie and William don't actually know each other, William has been obsessed with Robbie since high school when he was in a childish heavy metal band and a passionate writer. Father William has spent years virtually stalking and hammering Robbie into meeting up in person. He awkwardly coerces the depressed has-been into joining him on his religious endeavor, hoping to live out his youthful fantasies, and get a taste of all of the debaucherous fun he missed out on having gone into the clergy. Much of the film's humor is reminiscent to the cringe inducing tone of Chuck & Buck. But as the two strangers continue to ride down the river, the film grows more and more surreal.
If you've seen Rohal's Guatemalan Handshake, try to imagine that infused within the stoner comedy genre, now remove any and all references to marijuana. Make sense? No? Neither does the film, but that's kind of the point. It's a joke without a punchline. The film was originally built on the idea of a priest dropping his bible into the toilet at a dirty rest stop, and while that does indeed happen, it's inconsequential to all of the events that follow it. So it's not really a comedy of circumstance.
If an argument can be made on the film's message, it would probably be about the art of storytelling. Through out the film, Father William presses Robbie to retell his many stories written in his high school creative writing class. The dramatic recreations of these stories are the film's biggest high lights. And through out Catechism, different characters dissect and criticize these stories. The title of the film itself refers to the verbal reiteration and interpretation of the bible within Catholicism. This is to say, although the film is seemingly about nothing, it probably isn't. This is a very smart stupid film.
There's also a very specific reference and homage to Funky Forest, a film that Todd Rohal joked that only me, him, and 3 other people who probably write for twitch saw. Looking back on the film, it's clear that Funky Forest was a very strong influence on the style of humor in Catechism. The humor is built almost entirely out of quiet absurdity and surrealism.
I don't expect this to take off in the way Foot Fist Way or Eastbound & Down has. It's simply too strange and hard to pigeonhole. But I also expect this will develop a devout fan base over time. This will be used as a Rorschach test amongst the cool kids earning their film degrees and destined for cult status as requisite late night dorm room viewing fare.