Sunday, 22 September 2013

SEPTIC MAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2013 - FantasticFest2013: True Tragedy Reflected in Cronenberg-like Film.

Septic Man (2013) ****
Dir. Jesse Thomas Cook
Starring: Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings, Stephen McHattie, Tim Burd, Nicole G. Leier
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Any movie that opens with a weepy babe (Nicole G. Leier) taking a severely punishing crap replete with dulcet echoes of spurting, plopping and gaseous expulsions whilst said babe alternates twixt the release of putrid faecal matter with cum-shot-like geysers of stringy rancid vomit launching from within her maw, splattering triumphantly upon the grotesque tiles of a dimly lit toilet adorned top to bottom in slime, sludge, blown chunks and excrement, should be enough to alert viewers they're in for one mother-pounder of a wild ride into the deepest pits of scatological horror hell.

Septic Man, a new movie from the talented young Canadian horror auteur Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and the visionary independent production company Foresight Features takes the cake (of the urinal variety) for serving up one heaping, horrific platter o' genre representation of the real-life deadly water contamination that occurred several years ago in the bustling Southern Ontario burgh of Walkerton - known around the world for its inbreeding and, of course, the famous E-coli contamination of its drinking water.

The Walkerton tragedy occurred in May of 2000 when some 5000 people flooded (so to speak) the hospitals with severe cases of bloody diarrhoea and a bevy of other tummy-related ailments. Heading up the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission were the Koebel Brothers, two real prizes who'd held their jobs for over thirty years in spite of having absolutely no qualifications to do so. Stan and Frank, fulfilling the respective responsibilities of manager and water foreman, claimed the drinking water was just fine - pure, clean and safe to drink.

Seven people died and a veritable shit-load (as it were) fell ill. The nastiness could have been averted if the trusty local fellas hadn't lied through their teeth. During a subsequent criminal investigation, the Koebel Boys admitted wrongdoing of astronomical proportions - Stan falsified reports and Frank had been happily juicing on the job because his office was not equipped with a fridge to keep beer cold.

It is this very case, ripped from Canadian headlines and firmly lodged in the country's history of endlessly incompetent public service that clearly inspired writer-director Cook to cook-up (so to speak) this delectable sick puppy of a movie. With the assistance of Pontypool scribe Tony Burgess who shares the bottom half of the story credit, it's a simple tale with an accent on a claustrophobic setting. While some might compare Septic Man to the 80s Troma Films classic The Toxic Avenger, Cook's mordant wit, hallucinogenic horror styling, intelligent (albeit sledge hammer) social commentary and eye-assaulting viscous-splattering and pustule-sprouting imagery of the foulest kind, probably brings it much closer to David Cronenberg's early work (most notably Shivers, Rabid and The Brood).

Rather than Walkerton, Cook chooses to set his fictitious horror movie rendering of heinous incompetence leading to a major health crisis in his home town of Collingwood, Ontario. This, I will admit, is especially knee-slapping since Collingwood is known far more for tony tourism, upscale cottage country and a retirement community for rich old people as opposed to Walkerton's inbreeding claim to fame. While far more ludicrous, it is not, surprisingly, improbable.

Following the aforementioned opening five minutes of pre-credit babe-o-licious crapping and barfing, Septic Man introduces us to a televised report from Collingwood's Mayor (the indomitably brilliant Stephen McHattie) who, with the hilarious timbre of virtually every small town Ontario civic official intones the following with a perfectly appropriate straight face: "I’m gonna be honest with you, like I always am. I’m not going to pull any punches. We are in a heck of a goddamn situation here." He goes on to admit that his office has known for six weeks that the source of a local contamination is from the town's water supply, resulting in the deaths of 16 people and hundreds afflicted with ailments related to crypto sporidium and e-coli (including cholera). The Mayor goes on to announce a complete civilian evacuation of Collingwood orchestrated by military, law enforcement and federal officials.

While all hell breaks loose, we're introduced to the lone efforts of Jack (Jason David Brown), Collingwood's ace septic expert as he toils prodigiously in a stinking pool of sludge on the outskirts of a huge pollution-spewing factory that's emptying the most foul concoction of excrement, slime and dead rats into the town's water table. He's approached by Prosser (played with officious malevolence by one of Canada's finest character actors Julian Richings), a dapper gentleman who makes Jack a highly lucrative offer that just cannot be refused.

Prosser represents a "consortium". When Jack asks, "What's that?", Prosser simply declares: "Results, Jack." This implies that only a consortium, as opposed to government officials, are the only ones to acknowledge that our sludge-caked hero is the sole individual in town who has always been on top of various water-related issues. Furthermore, Prosser notes how Jack's efforts have largely gone been unappreciated by local authorities.

Jack wonders why he should risk staying behind when he has a responsibility to accompany his wife to the curling rink where Collingwood's residents are being bussed out. Prosser suggests that money will be the greatest incentive and a reward for Jack's service and prowess. He also throws in an offer wherein Jack will get a cushy desk job for life where he'll "do fuck-all but put your feet up." This is vaguely compelling, but Prosser seals the deal when he reminds Jack "Your wife probably smells shit every time you fuck her." Jack protests with, "Hey, my wife’s pregnant." Clearly the smell of shit hasn't kept the couple from procreating, but ultimately, Prosser's argument is genuinely the right thing to do.

"I’m a civic-minded shit sucker," Jack proclaims upon agreeing to the mission of delving deep into the bowels of the sewer system emptying into the water from the mysterious factory.

What follows is a lonely odyssey into the darkest depths of utter horror. Reality and nightmare become one as Jack uncovers a series of secret underground pipes and tunnels cluttered with corpses and body parts, then realizes he's trapped in a Knossos-like maze of filth presided over by two clearly inbred psychopaths, Lord Auch (Tim Burd) a nasty little thing with a mouthful of razor-sharp canines and a humungous, hulking, long-faced muscle man of few words (played by former WWF wrestling champ and star of such diverse genre favourites as 300, The Immortals, Pacific Rim and, of course, Cook's own hit Anchor Bay title from last year, Monster Brawl).

The special visual and makeup effects are, by the way, superb - right across the board - which comes as no surprise since the SFX team includes Canada's wizard of wonder Steven Kostanski (Astron-6, Manborg). Then again, one of the hallmarks of Foresight Features productions is the fact that so many of its key above the line creators have no problem doing double-triple-quadruple-quintuple and so on duties - immersing themselves in the entire process in a hands-on fashion. Cook, in particular, is a born filmmaker - cinema seems hardwired into his very DNA and he shares this quality with such new Canadian horror icons as Astron-6 and the Twisted Twins. This is how great low-budget movies get made, but more importantly, Foresight understands that you do NOT make low budget features that pathetically try to emulate the mainstream (including indies since most of them are bargain basement studio pictures anyway) - they seek to plumb depths that others do not dare dive into. They happily swim about in a world of shit.

Plumbing, of course, is exactly what this picture is all about and eventually, deep within the bowels of the factory's sewers, an infection sets in, and Jack begins to transform into something utterly hideous and horrific - something bordering, perhaps, on the immortal. Not unlike a number of seminal low budget cult films - David Lynch's Eraserhead in particular - Septic Man roams into nightmarish and hallucinogenic territory which is a delicious place for the film to go since it logically opens things up for all manner of illness.

Though there's a tiny bit of wheel-spinning that weights the picture down slightly in its middle portion, Cook has overall crafted a truly sickening, creepy and original horror gem that joins the ranks of Canada's west coast twins of the most twisted kind, the delightful Soskas who delivered American Mary and Winnipeg's Astron-6 who gave us the magnificent mega-bum-blaster Father's Day. Though some might feel Septic Man doesn't quite creep into modern masterpiece territory of the Soskas's body modification classic or the Astron-6 celebration of demonic sodomy, Jesse Thomas Cook with this and his supremely entertaining Monster Brawl is well on his way to carving a niche all his own into Canada's worthy tradition of audaciously sicko horror. Septic Man is definitely a step in the right direction and between all three Canucks, they form a mighty trinity of delectably diseased subjects. Ultimately, Septic Man is indeed, a masterpiece of terror.

In the name of the Father - Body Modification, The Son - Sodomy and The Holy Ghost - Excrement, young Canadian horror wizards are leaving the rest behind as mere dust in their tracks.

This is truly a must-see motion picture, but to be on the safe side, avoid eating Indian or Mexican cuisine prior to screening it (unless you truly feel the need to purge) and load up on the Tums for your tummy before dipping your toe into the exquisite cinematic cesspool of scary scatological horror that is Jesse Thomas Cook's brazenly foul Septic Man.

"Septic Man" enjoyed its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2013 in awesome Austin, Texas and will no doubt launch on home turd in October at the illustrious Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 (unless, of course its programmers suffer from a brain fart of the highest magnitude on the Richter Scale of Good Taste).