Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sundance 2011: Septien

An appealing little oddball of a movie, Septien is ironic and yet genuinely sweet.

Writer/director Michael Tully’s hipster Southern Gothic starts slow, its long takes giving us plenty of time to adjust to the laconic rhythms of a family farm that’s home to two brothers who get paid by the government not to work the land. Amos spends most of his time in the barn, making cartoonish paintings that serve up an American goulash of football, sex and violent death. Wilbur, the brothers’ sweet but slow former farmhand, lives outside in a tractor tire and spends his days like Of Mice and Men’s Lennie, stroking his kitty or digging up buried treasures. Ezra plays mom, cooking, cleaning, and clucking over the others.

The first hint of trouble in paradise arrives with the third brother, Cornelius, who appears after an unexplained 18-year absence with Joaquin Phoenix’s stiff posture and I’m Still Here beard, but the real drama starts when a creepy local plumber drives up to unclog the old house’s pipes. The psychological shitstorm the plumber unleashes, like the missing puzzle piece Ezra finds at the end of the movie, is just one of many comic bones tossed our way by this deadpan drama, which breaks into a riot of quick cuts and hysterical action in a climax as overheated and quintessentially American as Amos’ paintings.

Part spoof and part homage, Septien plays with psychological-horror tropes while creating a pungent little universe all his own, peopled by characters you find yourself actually caring about.

Written for Slant Magazine

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