Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: SEPTIC MAN Is Surprisingly Serious And Smart.
DO NOT watch this while eating. In fact just go vomit now. Director Jesse Thomas Cook has created one of the most unusual films I've seen in a while and the trick he pulls off was enough to make me smile . But be forewarned Septic Man is every bit as disgusting as the premise makes it sound and then some.
When various and most heinous plagues begin to decimate a small Canadian town the local government begins evacuation of the folk and the sewers. Trust me. Everything and everybody here evacuates. But since they know the problem is in the sewers the town fathers approach Jack, a local plumber, who has saved them before. They promise Jack the moon, a pot of money and a cushy job for life if he'll go... down there, find the problem and fix it. This does not impress Jack's pregnant wife, who is convinced only disaster awaits and begs Jack to evacuate with her (leave town that is). Jack embraces the role of human colonoscope and local hero instead, descending into the city's labyrinthian system of underground pipes and tanks, determined to unblock his future.
He unblocks it alright, becoming trapped underground in the cesspool that has made everyone else flee for the hills. .
But just when you think you have Septic Man figured out as a simple piece of survival horror it twists the wrench hard loosing a plotting flood of hallucinations, and unexpected visitors to go along with all the other bodily fluids one expects in a sewer. Jack's exposure to the concentrated grouping of noxious elements in the pool begins to change him physically in ways that invite all sorts of comparisons to other films but his destiny is wrapped up in what the screenplay has to say regarding what exploitation really looks like in our society and the divisions it creates between people if we allow ourselves to be exploited. That's the neat trick. This is genre by way of ideas and not the other way around.
The monied and powerful exploit the less monied but still ambitious first and foremost by selling them the idea that they can become one of the elite group if they do what they are told. But the reality is that no matter how perseverant the human spirit is, within that paradigm, Septic Man is the result. No one wants to be around him and he loses the ability to connect with anyone else, becoming less than human. There's a brokenhearted-ness here, a betrayal, that is pretty damn haunting as I consider that process in my own life and the constant fight to escape it. Forget all the other schlubs out there who have it worse off than me.
Written by Tony Burgess (Pontypool ) there is a wry sense of humor buried under the constant stream of gore and guck but genre buffs will spend years trying to unblock the attitudes of most who are too grossed out to get it. The bottom line is this is a smarter and funnier film than you might expect but it's also one that is for that select group of people who figured out that The Human Centipede 2 (2011) was especially dumb and smarmy precisely because it aimed to disgust rather than use disgust to do anything except piss off the right people.
The audience here will be greatly limited. They have to have the ability or desire to watch a movie where a drinking game could be constructed out of how often characters vomit. But the old rule goes "garbage in garbage out." simply fails here. Septic Man does indeed feature lots of garbage going in (or at least men going into garbage) but it takes the viewer somewhere totally unexpected and takes on unexpected pathos in the process. It isn't a twist ending per se, just a gentle (an apt but odd word to use here) revelation of what happens when we value some innocuous dream of the future more than we value our own flesh and blood.