DIRECTED BY: Todd Rohal
FEATURING: Steve Little, Robert Longstreet
PLOT: A goofy priest who seems more concerned with funny stories and YouTube videos than Jesus Christ sets out on a canoe trip with his childhood icon Robbie, a musician who dated his sister in high school. As they paddle down the river, more details about their history are revealed, and things get really weird when they meet fellow travelers posing as characters from Huckleberry Finn.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It starts off as a funny, somewhat quirky canoe trip, relying on dialogue and a few offbeat stories to entertain its audience. But then it gets weird. Really weird. I’d say the last 20 minutes are weird enough to make up for the comparative normalcy of the preceding 50.
COMMENTS: When the effervescent Father Billy first meets up with his middle school idol at a roadside diner, he accidentally drops his bible (which he gets autographed by musicians) in a diarrhea-filled toilet bowl. This sets the stage for a story that is deceptively average on the surface, but delightfully deranged underneath, finally showing its true colors during the final sequence. Their journey is peppered with some strange side-stories, from a heat-packing granny to a suicidal businessman who can’t die, along with some effectively ominous filming techniques and a heavy metal soundtrack that humorously clashes with the bucolic river landscape. While there are flashes of weirdness throughout, nothing truly prepares the viewer for the big Weird payoff at the end, which I will not spoil for you.
Father Billy is a well-meaning goofball with an oblivious, clingy personality, and it’s never actually clear why he would become a priest—an occupation that takes remarkable dedication and sacrifice—in the first place. He seems perfectly content to sit around listening to 80’s metal and drinking milk. His dips into unpriestly behavior (lying to his superior, drinking beer, etc) coincide with dire circumstances that should be enough to completely shake his faith. Steve Little puts in an offbeat performance, making Father Billy just slightly creepy enough for viewers to question exactly what is going on here. In contrast, Longstreet’s portrayal of Robbie is so open and believable, he stands as a pillar of ordinariness and often represents the audience’s own reactions to Billy’s off-putting characteristics.
The Catechism Cataclysm is a difficult film to encapsulate. It’s a mish-mash of high school reunion-esque reflection, Catholic introspection, fascinating urban legend storytelling, and off-the-walls absurdity that winds its way into an enjoyable, funny, decidedly memorable experience. Overall, it’s an impressive show of irreverence and eccentricity from a director with a foundation in mumblecore.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“A dryly absurd road comedy with the caveat being that they core duo are floating down a river rather than driving along a road… This is down home Americana re-imagined as gradually escalating dementia with a dark yet still sweetly naive edge.”–Todd Brown, Twitch