Septic Man (2013) (film review).

A sewage worker will get a large reward if he goes into the sewer to fix a bad water contamination problem. But he never guessed all that is going on under his feet. Some of the same team who created the very original ‘Pontypool’ (2008) is back, though it is with an idea not so original and not nearly so satisfying. Tony Burgess directs. Try not to see the film just before dinner. Try not to see this film just after dinner neither. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10.

Septic Man (2013) (film review).
Septic Man (2013) (film review).

Horror films have a responsibility to shock the viewer and get a reaction. In ‘Psycho’, Alfred Hitchcock did it with a slasher’s knife. The ‘Saw’ films have vivid images of sadism. The writers of ‘Septic Man’ know that we have an instinctive aversion to human waste and they use that to grab a viewer reaction. I am afraid that a new sub-genre of the horror film is the process of being invented to stand beside the slasher film and the zombie film and the torture films. I am not sure what to call it. Calling it the ‘revulsion film’ is too broad and the ‘fecal-horror film’ may be too narrow. However, ‘Septic Man’ is a film to stand beside ‘The Human Centipede’ films and be as disgusting, dubious as that distinction is.

The film opens appropriately, I suppose, with a woman on a toilet in the world’s grungiest bathroom and vomiting. Some viewers probably join her. But she has little more connection to the main body of the film.

Jack (aka ‘Septic Man’ played by Jason David Brown) is a kind of unsung hero that only another sewer worker would have appreciated. He is apparently a legend among sewer workers as he fixed a terrible back-up of sewage a few years back and saved the Sewage Disposal Department and Collingwood, Ontario, from a terrible contamination problem. Now, a few years later, there is a terrible contamination problem in the same town, and everyone will be evacuated, including Jack’s pregnant wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth) wants to get out while she can and wants Jack to come with her. But the sinister Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) is willing to pay Jack a hero’s pay to go into the sewer system and fix everything. However, once Jack gets where he is going, he finds himself trapped in a septic tank and there is someone trying to kill him. This all sounds like satire and a thriller that Ed Norton of ‘The Honeymooners’ could have written. It is however done deadpan seriously.

A problem with this film is that even though it was written by the same Tony Burgess who wrote the inventive ‘Pontypool’ in 2008, he and director Jesse Thomas Cook just did not have enough idea here to fill a film, even one only 83 minutes long. Burgess misjudges the scare factor of a man in a septic tank wandering around with little progress being made in the plot. Otherwise, the septic tank was a good idea for the producers since how much can it cost to rent of septic tank and film on location? But wandering a septic tank is just insufficiently spooky. The truth is the fecal matter that plays an important part of this film is more implied than really present. We see more vomit than faeces, lucky us. Though Jack does become encrusted with something unidentifiable. Still there is such an insufficiency of idea here that they throw in a chainsaw killer, perhaps giving the film a nice nostalgic feel even if it is only temporary.

As far as I could tell there was only one familiar face in the cast. The Mayor of Collingwood who appears only on a TV screen and does not interact with other actors is Stephen McHatti, who among roles played the lead in ‘Pontypool’.

One has the feeling throughout the film that there is more going on than meets the eye, though that is not the direction the film goes. I rate ‘Septic Man’ a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. ‘Septic Man’ will release in the US August 15.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2014

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