Film Review: Septien

An erratic narrative pastiche lacking stylistic coherence.

Dysfunctional family dynamics take center stage in actor-writer-director Michael Tully's Septien, an offbeat slice of Americana that's neither fish nor fowl. Following its video-on-demand debut simultaneous with the fest premiere as part of the "Direct from the Sundance Film Festival" initiative, Sundance Selects is now releasing the film theatrically, although audience response is likely to be muted.

Brothers Ezra (Robert Longstreet) and Amos (Onur Tukel) live on a rundown farm inherited from their parents. Since the government pays them not to produce any crops, they simply collect their subsidy and while away their days—Ezra obsessively cleaning and cooking, while Amos paints bizarre, violently sexual canvases out in the barn.

Things take a turn when their brother Cornelius (Tully) returns unannounced and without explanation after an 18-year absence. Old conflicts quickly reemerge, especially between Cornelius and Amos, with motherly Ezra trying to keep the peace.

When their toilet erupts, the plumber (Mark Darby Robinson), who shows up with a nubile young companion (Rachel Korine), turns out to be the brothers' old nemesis, their former high-school football coach. It'll take a mysterious itinerant preacher (John Maringouin) and some serious fire and brimstone to set these ole boys right again.

Weakly spoofing, or at least deliberately tweaking, Southern Gothic conventions, writer-director Tully can't fully get his arms around this messy genre mash-up. Attempts at humor often come off as simply strange, dramatic elements churn but don't coalesce, and mild stabs at horror fall flat. The performances are either too underplayed to connect or overplayed to the point of caricature.

Tully directs his sophomore narrative feature with competence and a bit of flair—the visuals are clean and nicely composed, and the rural imagery is at least pleasant to look at, thanks to the Super-16mm lensing. Tighter creative control might have resulted in a somewhat interesting narrative of crisis and redemption—or else a darkly profane comedy—rather than a bemusing thematic mishmash.
-The Hollywood Reporter