Sunday, July 03, 2011

Brothers Bizarro: Septien

Thanks to us taxpayers, the Rawlings Brothers live profoundly eccentric lives. Paid by the U.S. government not to farm, Ezra compulsively cleans their house while steadfastly repressing his sexuality. Brother Amos paints scatological outsider art in the barn. Nobody knows what the prodigal Cornelius has been up to for the last fifteen or twenty years and he is not talking when he suddenly reappears in director-co-writer-co-star Michael Tully’s Septien (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday at the IFC Center.

Cornelius Rawlings was once a star high school football player with professional potential. Yet, for mysterious reasons, he ran away from home apparently dropping out of society altogether. At least, he stayed in shape enough to hustle beer money on tennis and basketball courts. For a while, the brothers aimlessly coexist, nursing their resentments. However, when the plumber fixing the Rawlings’ septic system turns out to be the Red Rooster, Cornelius’s former football coach, it destabilizes the dysfunctional household.

At first, Septien appears to be another mumblecore indie, distinguished by the sheer weirdness of the scenes it drifts in and out of. Yet, the arrival of a Night of the Hunter style preacher sends the film careening out into left field. Stranger still, Septien’s presentation of the preacher’s old time apocalyptic religion is rather ambiguous. Though perhaps intended as a scathing critique, it takes on a rather liberating non-judgmental role.

Like everything in the film, Septien’s take on religion is flat-out bizarre. Of course, it has nothing to do with the title, a nod to former Dallas Cowboy Rafael Septien tarnished by an underage sex scandal soon after his playing days. That would be hard to glean from the film, which never references him directly, though perhaps a trippy placekicking scene is intended as an indirect hint.

Nothing in Septien should work, but it is all so odd, it more or less clicks. The film looks like it was shot through a mayonnaise jar and recorded with a tin can and length of twine. In a way though, the film’s grungy look well serves the brothers’ downscale living conditions. Still, it is co-writer-co-star Onur Tukel’s baroquely Freudian paintings and drawings that truly set the film’s eerie vibe. They are a critical ingredient for this thing called Septien.

Tukel also shows some legit dramatic chops as Amos the artist, delivering the film’s most visceral moments. Fellow co-writer Robert Longstreet is also surprisingly sure-footed as the brother who wants to be the mother, avoiding the obvious Tennessee Williams pitfalls. For his part, Tully largely only has to look tall and spacey as Cornelius, but he certainly has that covered.

Incorporating elements of Southern gothic, mublecore, and redemptive sports movies, Septien is a fascinating Frankenstein hybrid. Somehow, Tully, Tukel, and Longstreet pull it off. Anyone interested in The Bleeding House, a thematically related indie horror film currently making the rounds, should hold out for Septien instead. It really is a Midnight Movie (as billed by IFC), though it might not seem like it during the first sixty minutes or so. Indeed, that unpredictability is part of its eccentric charm. Definitely recommended (but for whom I have no idea), Septien opens this Wednesday (7/6) in New York at the IFC Center.