SEPTIEN (director/writer: Michael Tully; screenwriters: Robert Longstreet/Onur Tukel,; cinematographer: Jeremy Saulnier; editor: Marc Vives; music: Michael Montes; cast: Rachel Korine (Savannah), Brian Kotzur (Gas Station Guy),Robert Longstreet (Ezra Rawlings), Michael Tully (Cornelius Rawlings), Mark Darby Robinson (Red “Rooster” Rippington), Jim Willingham (Wilbur Cunningham), Onur Turkel (Amos Rawlings), John Maringouin (Preacher),; Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Brooke Bernard/Brent Stewart/Ryan Zacarias; IFC Films; 2011)
“An oddball backwoods curio, that takes us off the beaten path art-house style.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An oddball backwoods curio, that takes us off the beaten path art-house style. Though somewhat appealingly strange as a black comedy, it never convinces me it’s more than a film school project. The low-budget indie was shot on Kodak Super-16mm. The pic has been busy making the rounds of the festival circuit. Michael Tully (“Silver Jew”/”Cocaine Angel”) directs, cowrites and stars in this Southern gothic tale that revels in its potentially menacing characters and could have been a horror film if it wanted to be. The background story is laced with old-fashioned ‘fire and brimstone’ Christian religious overtones about having a clean soul for God and finding redemption. It’s also about three brothers who are repressed and weighed down with emotional problems.
It’s set in Tennessee, in a rundown rural family farm house, lived in by brothers whose parents have long been deceased. Mother hen oldest brother Ezra Rawlings (Robert Longstreet) cleans the house, cooks the meals, and attends church regularly. Amos (Onur Turkel), a frustrated self-taught artist, feels insecure because he’s not gay. He paints surreal paintings of sports figures, penises and Satan in the barn. The kind-hearted and socially awkward Wilbur Cunningham (Jim Willingham) is the handyman on the farm (receiving government subsidies for not farming), who sleeps inside a tractor tire.
After eighteen years vanishing without a trace, the high school athlete Cornelius (Michael Tully) returns with an unkempt hillbilly beard and a hoodie. Though cheerfully welcomed home as a lost prodigal son, Cornelius refuses to say anything about why he left and where he lived. Cornelius spends his time going around town hustling young strangers to play him for $50 one-on-one pick-up games in such sports as tennis and basketball.
The gist of the story revolves around the emergency call for a plumber, Red “Rooster” Rippington (Mark Darby Robinson), who arrives at the farm with a girl, young enough to be his daughter but is not his daughter, named Savannah (Rachel Korine). It turns out Rooster was Cornelius’s football coach, and an incident involving him and Cornelius over a dropped pass eighteen years ago turns out to be what’s haunting brother Cornelius. How the dysfunctional family bonds together and deals with this Rooster character and rids themselves of their inner demons, with the help of a mysterious drifter preacher (John Maringouin), becomes the outlandish plot that takes weird to another level of weirdness. Though it should be admired for its effort to make something unique out of something familiar, it should also be admonished for playing a child-like game with religion as recklessly as a mischievous child might play with fire.
REVIEWED ON 6/10/2011 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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