MPI // 2011 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // February 24th, 2012
"Thou shall rock 'n' roll!"
When his superiors force him to take a sabbatical, having learned of his preference for viewing videos on YouTube and telling his flock inappropriate parables, Father Billy (Steve Little, Eastbound and Down) tracks down his old high school buddy, former musician/writer Robbie (Robert Longstreet). Though initially reluctant and more than a little perturbed at the idea, Robbie agrees to join Father Billy on a canoeing trip. At Billy's behest, Robbie helps pass the time by telling some of his old stories -- but things quickly go awry when Father Billy loses his Bible in the restroom of a local diner. Things only get weirder when the two find themselves lost in the woods, only to be befriended by a pair of Japanese hikers with bizarre intentions.
I'm all for films being vague with regard to their meaning, but Todd Rohal's The Catechism Cataclysm is, evidently, not interested in having any purpose. Instead, it attempts to build a comedy around a ramshackle narrative that seems determined to make as little sense as possible. It's not unclear what actually happens in the film, the problem comes from the fact that the trip Father Billy and Robbie take lacks direction, with the bizarre characters and events they encounter showing minimal logic. There's nothing here that compels the viewer to better understand the film, so deep analysis becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.
Up until around the 45-minute mark, Rohal's film is simply guilty of being boring and unfunny. With very little happening in terms of incident, The Catechism Cataclysm rests on the interactions of Father Billy and his old school buddy, Robbie. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of both actors -- which sees Little nail the goofy Father Billy, and Longstreet excel in the more deadpan role of Robbie -- their roles are too one-dimensional to empathize with. Too little effort is put into exploring Father Billy's plight, as the character increasingly becomes reliant on goofball antics. The role lacks a satisfying arc, and culminates in an ending that seems to ignore significant events.
The final third of The Catechism Cataclysm sees the film move into increasingly weird territory, as the two friends encounter a pair of Japanese travelers. What happens next, and, more importantly, why, is not clear. I'll not spoil it for those interested in seeing the film, but it suggests Rohal had several scenes in mind for his film, but lacked a complete story into which they could be included. This incomplete feel extends to the short stories that crop up intermittently during the film's runtime. Told by Robbie to help pass the time, these Mark Twain-esque tales feel slight and incomplete -- something one of the characters directly alludes to, but is never really addressed.
If the film is, as I assume, simply about Father Billy rediscovering his purpose having grown weary of his life as a priest, then it goes about it in such a disjointed and convoluted manner that many viewers -- myself included -- will simply lose interest. There's very little reason for the inclusion of Robbie's short stories, which -- in one notable case -- crop up so randomly that they detract far too much from the main story, and add very little but flab to the running time. The humor is also amazingly off-target. Not only does it (quite literally) resort to toilet humor extremely early on, it seems unsure of whether it is mocking religion or not, which takes the sting out of the few gags that do work. In fact, the religious aspect of the film feels more than a little tacked on.
Despite my problems with the film, I will admit parts do work -- even if they make little sense. The campfire sequence, in which a pair of Japanese girls conducts a bizarre experiment/ritual, is not only well shot, but also creates a suitably dark atmosphere. That the rest of the film fails to attain the level of this one scene is a shame, as there are bursts of imagination -- including the unlikely reanimation of a decapitated corpse -- which on their own are fine, but never really gel together into a satisfying whole.
MPI's DVD sports a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Detail levels are generally good, with rich black levels and natural colors. The soundtrack delivers clear and crisp dialogue, with no bells or whistles.
The headline special feature is undoubtedly the commentary track. While this fails to provide any further insight into what the movie is supposed to be about -- beyond the fact that God works in mysterious (and unexpected) ways -- there's plenty of discussion over the composition of individual scenes, with everyone involved clearly very pleased with, and defensive of, the final product. The pretty pointless short film, "Sasquatch Birth Journal 2," is also included, along with two trailers for the film and a selection of outtakes.
Despite admittedly committed performances from its two leads, the directionless, rambling The Catechism Cataclysm is impossible to connect with, and lacks anything resembling substance or meaning.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Official Site