Septic Man. 2014. Directed by Jesse Thomas Cook. Screenplay by Tony Burgess.
Starring Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet, Timothy Burd, & Stephen McHattie.
Rated R. 83 minutes.
Online, this film is endlessly written about in reference to Troma’s Toxic Avenger, which is understandable: they’re two films about a man who gets transformed by toxic nastiness. In this case, it’s a little less radioactive, a little more infectiously shitty – a sewage worker named Jack (Jason David Brown) gets trapped in a septic tank while trying to remedy an issue with the lines during a water contamination crisis in his little town, and soon enough he undergoes a disgusting metamorphosis into something Other.
So, yeah, the premises are close, enough that it’s totally normal for people to compare the two. However, even though I don’t think Septic Man is anywhere near a fantastic film, it is still far better than The Toxic Avenger, and for all the people who feel that landmark Troma piece was one of important social commentary they can find a lot more of that right here in Jesse Thomas Cook’s film.
Septic Man isn’t a great piece of work. It’s interesting, there are a few great elements. Overall, it suffers from a slow pace that really doesn’t go anywhere you want it to, and not in the sense it’s unexpected, but that nothing happens worth all the waiting. If there were more action, more excitement, the film would’ve gotten to where it needed to go.
Nevertheless, the social commentary’s there, the lead performance by Brown is decent enough to keep the viewer interested, even as the pacing gets soggy, plus there’s the the effects, the nastiness, which make things interesting. If only there were something extra, this might’ve reached greatness.
“I‘m a civic–minded shit sucker“
A hideous opening scene takes us into an ugly little world, befitting of a film with this title. But it leads into a unique, dare I say fresh-type of scenario for a horror. You can easily take this all at face value, just an ugly bit of gross-out cinema. Likewise, you can extrapolate a bit of intriguing social commentary, too.
The lower class, they’re always the ones doing the worst jobs. They’re put on the front lines of all the horrors of our world, from picking up the trash, to cleaning up after others, to the job that Jack has, Septic Man, a guy with his own little business taking care of various problems around town: quite literally dealing with peoples shit. The lower class do the dirtiest jobs for those that will not get their hands dirty literally, just figuratively, and they’re further left to rot in the filth of their broken down environments. The working class are forced to do these jobs, they’re left behind as “old infrastructure” to be built upon. Forced to drown in the shit of others. Personified by Jack.
His predicament – stuck in the septic tank, mutating into a disgusting creature – is also indicative of all the dirty secrets of the bourgeois class, whose failures (i.e. Jack, in this scenario) are hidden in the dark where they fester, and mutate, until they’re found someday, swept under the rug. Prosser (Julian Richings) represents that shadowy sect of sinister corporations, sending the lowly sewage worker in to fix a problem then cutting him loose when it doesn’t end well. In the end, Jack’s sacrifice saves the town, and he’s left to wallow, discarded once he served his purpose, down in the sewers as if some shitty fairy tale monster.
“I am home. Jack is home!”
There are several wild moments, a few genuinely creepy bits. The one that got me most was the smaller weirdo in the sewer system, with the teeth, when they’re being sharpened by his larger friend using the big blade in his mouth. Truly unsettling. And in general Jack’s transformation is brutal, in the best sort of way. For an indie film, the makeup effects are pretty gnarly, it’s good that director Jesse Thomas Cook focused on this because it deserved the attention. One of the major reasons the film works; after all, it’s titled Septic Man and the viewer’s expecting a Toxie-ish man to emerge, at some point. As I mentioned, Brown’s performance as our titular tragic hero Jack is decent, probably the best of them all aside from Richings, whose presence is a welcomed addition to the cast.
But the pacing, it really kills everything Cook has going by the end. The finale’s not anti-climactic, though it isn’t enough to make things intriguing. It’s exactly where you’d expect things will go. Part of me feels that the whole bit with the people in the sewer aside from Jack is the downfall. It’s a hard call, because part of the plot requires the infection concept, the water contamination reaching such intense levels, in turn enough to mutate Jack while he’s down there. It’d require a lot of work to straighten out the story’s kinks. Too bad it couldn’t have added up to more, I was rooting for this weird, poop-filled horror.
This is an example of a film that has things going for it, but that never uses those great elements to its advantage. Septic Man, to me, is still better than The Toxic Avenger. I’ll always wonder what more could have come out of it. Pop this on with a couple friends. Although, a suggestion: no food. Maybe a few drinks, if that’s your thing. You might find yourself inspired to take a dump afterwards.