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Carson D. Mell
Thirty-something Billy Smoortser is a junior parish priest. He exasperates the senior parish priest, Father O'Herlihy, as Billy often does not display a true understanding of his job, telling stories to the parishioners that have nothing to do with religion or that have no moral teaching. It is almost like Billy is stuck mentally in his teens, displaying infantile behavior typical of a teen. When Father O'Herlihy forces Billy to take a vacation in order to focus more clearly on his mission as a priest, Billy decides to take a several hour river canoe trip with Robbie Shoemaker, who he recently reconnected with via email. Robbie was Billy's older sister Janice's boyfriend in high school, and Billy's idol at the time. In high school, Robbie was in a death metal band and a writer, the latter which not many knew about except perhaps Billy. To the best of Billy's knowledge, Robbie still plays in a death metal band and still writes. It is Robbie's stories which Billy often tells to his ... Written by
The Catechism Cataclysm is a film that seems to try and do everything in its power to make you not like it. It has a preposterously inconceivable setup, its tone is almost never consistent, it ranges from light-hearted farce to extremely-overwrought satanism at times, shamelessly alienates itself from its audience, and tries to make us side with one of the most grating, ridiculous character an indie film has ever seen.
And yet, I kind of liked it. It has that "simply don't give a damn" charm that works, and its characters, while quite unlikable, accentuate at least some believability. It follows Father Billy (Steve Little), a bumbling doofus of a Catholic priest who meets and reconnects with Robbie (Robert Longstreet), an acquaintance from high school he has since become obsessed with. Robbie is a failed writer and a singer for a cheap, ragtag metal band, and carries his surly, narcissistic attitude with him like a badge of pride.
Father Billy and Robbie embark on a canoeing trip last minute, which results in them getting lost and trying to survive the trip and each other. But the film doesn't stop there; throw in Japanese tourists that look innocuous but are anything but, a bizarre mind-control device, and an extremely uncomfortable but artsy attempt at a satanic trance that looks like it was choreographed by the likes of Rob Zombie.
If writer/director Todd Rohal went into The Catechism Cataclysm (which will also go down as one of the most fun films to say) with the mindset of making one of the strangest, most baffling independent comedies in recent years then he succeeded. It's one thing to wince at a film's comedy rather than laugh as you're supposed to, but I wasn't sure rather to wince or to laugh at the humor the film presents. It functions in that odd, extremely rare crack of absurdist craziness and careless farce that leaves you either unamused or consumed with hilarity. Or, like me, in a state of admiration and disappointment.
However, I can't say I knew what to expect watching the film. Something along the lines of the wonderful independent films of the last couple of years rather than something that channels the boundaries of an episode of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. Absurdist humor and the act of laughing at something that theoretically isn't funny only goes so far with me. At times cute and amusing, it can also verge on the fence of being repetitive and often only used for shock-value or for those occasion, uncertain laughs. The Catechism Cataclysm is filled with the so-called "uncertain laughs," but also features some surprising moments of entertainment and likability.
That is quite the remark seeing as I began the film almost completely loathing the Father Billy character. Characters that are drawn for the purpose of being unlikable because of something they bring on themselves (in this case clinginess, a sense of importance, childish behavior, and a lack of maturity). For this reason, it is shocking to see Father Billy go from intolerable to shockingly watchable when him and Robbie begin to realize they're lost on the river and talk aimlessly for a lengthy amount of time.
This is a rocky, directionless film indeed. The first twenty-five minutes are difficult to get into but acceptable in their own way, the following thirty are pretty good and pack in the film's strongest points, and the final twenty minutes or so become flabby and signify this film would've been more practical and justifiable as a short than a seventy-five minute feature. I can't honestly recommend the film - it's way too uneven and intentionally baffling - and, yet, it's too intriguing to be ignored on another level.
Starring: Steve Little and Robert Longstreet. Directed by: Todd Rohal.
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