SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 9, 2011
Director: Michael Tully
Writer: Michael Tully
Starring: Michael Tully, Robert Longstreet, Onur Tukel, Rachel Korine, Mark Darby Robinson, John Maringouin, Jim Willingham
Eighteen years after disappearing without a trace, a man who looks remarkably like Jesus Christ donning sunglasses and a tan hoodie returns to his family’s farm. The parents of the bearded man — whose name is Cornelius (Michael Tully) — died a while ago; but his two siblings, Ezra (Robert Longstreet) and Amos (Onur Tukel), are still living as eccentric slackers on the family’s backwoods property.
Ezra, the more effeminate brother, plays the role of the doting mother of the household, dutifully cooking, cleaning, praying and basically just taking care of things. Amos is the token artist of the Rawlings clan; he wishes that he could be gay but he thinks his gayness is too repressed because their father was homophobic and now he is just too old to become gay. Cornelius is the star athlete of the family, but he is by no means a stereotypical jock; his Christ-on-a-bender appearance allows him to effortlessly hustle cash from random guys on the neighborhood tennis and basketball courts. In addition to the Rawlings men, their farmhand — Wilbur (Jim Willingham) — sleeps in an old tractor tire on their property. Wilbur is an up-and-coming experimental filmmaker, now that he discovered a nifty VHS camcorder. Wilbur has plenty of spare time on his hands since the U.S. government pays the Rawlings family to not farm.
Since Septien is essentially an absurd character study, I am just going to go ahead and proceed with the remaining character introductions…
The local plumber, Red “Rooster” Rippington (Mark Darby Robinson), shares his bed with a significantly younger lady — Savannah (Rachel Korine) — but their relationship remains quite ambiguous. Rooster refers to Savannah as a “little girl” but he also states that she is not his daughter. A mysterious man (John Maringouin) in a black leather jacket strolls into town with a briefcase in hand. Where does he go knocking? You’ve got it…the Rawlings’ house. Next thing we know, the man in black is spouting pseudo-Biblical mumbo jumbo. His gist is that the Rawlings’ house is so unclean that it makes his skin crawl: there are invisible snakes on the floor and ten dimensions of hell underneath the house. Oh my! At times the man in black talks like a Coen Brothers’ character. (“The lord wants us to discombobulate this Rooster…”) When all is said and done, I am left with a quote from John Cale’s “Hanky Panky Nohow” ringing in my ears: “Nothing frightens me more than religion at my door.” Nothing good can possibly come out of this house call…
What does Rooster have to do with the price of eggs? How does the man in black know Rooster (and what does he know about him)? There are some other questions that might also be of some relevance in this or other matters: Why did Cornelius abandon his family? Where in the name of Jesus Christ did Cornelius run off to for 18 years? What the heck prompted Cornelius’ sudden return after all that time? (Do not look at me for answers…just watch the bloody movie!)
Directed by Tully and co-written by Tully, Longstreet and Tukel, Septien is a very odd bird of a film. It shares certain traits with classic Southern Gothic tales and the final act delves briefly into the wonderful world of psychological horror flicks; but for the most part Septien is an absurd character study…and it is, for all intents and purposes, a dark comedy.
Tully and company take a long and meandering route to get where they want to go, but that is definitely part of the fun. For the first two acts they concentrate solely on developing the Rawlings brothers, yet upon digestion we realize that we know very little about these characters after all. We really only see their outer shells: their quirky and eccentric behaviors (even their speaking is primarily done in emotionless yet gentle monotones). It might be frustrating to some, but it is actually a pretty neat trick that Tully plays on us.