Toronto After Dark 2013: Stalled and Septic Man Reviews
Unfortunately, this aptly titled film lives up to its name. A predominantly one-man show set in a women’s bathroom during the zombie apocalypse, the film feels far more stagnant than startling. No amount of blue zombies or Evil Dead visual cues can save this film from its fate as altogether underwhelming.
Our unnamed protagonist finds himself trapped in a women’s bathroom after dodging in there to hide from his former boss. With a toolbox in hand that is mysteriously devoid of tools, and full of cash, he barricades himself in a stall just in time for the zombie apocalypse. What ensues are a great many scenes of attempting to kill time and escape alive through the growing throng of the undead.
Stylistically, the film has a lot going for it. It establishes a clear campy tone from the very beginning. Unfortunately, it lacks the feverish pace necessary to infect audiences. It starts off far too slowly, and the pace crawls from there. Its occasional jump scares aren’t potent enough to carry its down time, and there’s far too much dead air in between thrills.
The premise is sound, but marketing the film as Shaun of the Dead meets Phone Booth was a mistake. The two are tonally dichotomous, and you can see these themes fighting with each other throughout. The solitude behind the one-man show concept is never achieved, as it spends so much time holding onto the camp factor for dear life. Simultaneously it strives for moments of profound heart and exposition that wind up falling flat due to its visual style. What should have been a mile-a-minute Zom-Com unfortunately moves at a snail’s pace, and simply doesn’t grab you by the throat.
Tony Burgess struck intellectual gold with Pontypool. Stoic, elegantly simplistic, and frightening, it hit all the right marks. Septic Man unfortunately misses that mark. Jesse T Cook’s bombastic style and Burgess’ subtlety seem to clash in this project, rather than support each other. Unable to choose a direction, the film winds up feeling as stuck as its protagonist.
Set and shot in Collingwood, Ontario, the film centers on a town in crisis. A mysterious and violent illness is striking its citizens, and no one seems to be able to either locate the problem or put an end to it. Enter Jack, the Septic Man (Jason David Brown). Having saved the town once before, he’s contacted yet again to play the conquering hero. While attempting to locate the genesis of all that ails the town, he accidentally falls into the very waste that has killed hundreds. What ensues is a horrendous transformation as he bides his time and attempts to escape his septic hell.
What felt like it would be a more serious Toxic Avenger, Troma-esque aesthetics with more weight to its premise, simply felt trapped. The film can’t seem to reconcile the stylistic elements of its creators. As such, it struggles to find a balance between full-tilt gross-out and intellectual commentary. The struggle then lies in senseless vulgarity. It can’t even be called gore, as there’s very little blood. But there’s enough vomit to make even the most strong-willed Emetophobe cave and run away screaming. There needed to be more meat to the film in order to justify that kind of audience alienation. As an Emetophobe, this was one of the film’s largest failings for me.
The introduction of characters such as Lord Auch (Tim Burd) and his tender giant brother (Robert Maillet) feels out of place, and largely unnecessary. Molly Dunsworth’s performance as Jack’s wife Shelley does more harm than good, as she’s incapable of making the stilted dialogue work. Julian Richings, however, as the mysterious Phil Prosser, steals the show. Far and above the best performance in the film, he’s a joy to watch in every scene. Unfortunately, it’s simply not enough to save this film.