Septic Man (2013)
★ / ★★★★
A Canadian town with contaminated water is ordered by the government to evacuate immediately due to concerns of serious health issues. So far, no one knows what caused the contamination. In the midst of fear and chaos, Jack (Jason David Brown), a sewage worker, is approached by a mysterious man (Julian Richings) who offers a total of two hundred thousand dollars if he stays and figures out the water problem. Jack accepts especially since he and his wife (Molly Dunsworth) are expecting a child.
“Septic Man,” written by Tony Burgess and directed by Jesse Thomas Cook, offers only one idea and fails to either move beyond it or explore that idea so deeply that, despite its limited budget, we are entertained anyway because it sheds a light on corners barely seen. I enjoyed that the protagonist is a person who has a dirty job. However, the filmmakers define him as only that which is a fundamental mistake. They prevent the picture from taking off and venturing out into interesting avenues.
It is bearable up until Jack falls into a hole in the ground while trying to solve the contamination problem. In an earlier scene, we see blueprints of underground waterways and so we expect the main character to explore the maze and discover hidden horrors. Instead, he becomes stuck in the same room for about three-quarters of the film. Because the water is infested with all sorts of toxins and microorganisms, we see him transform physically. Regardless, the makeup is not very convincing.
Over the course of the movie, we watch Jack develop warts and tumors on his face and body. It is so extreme that it becomes too unbelievable since the body can only take on a certain level of foreign elements before it goes into shock. The character’s teratoid appearance hearkens that of the monster flicks back in the 1940s and ‘50s. It would have made more sense if the material were a little bit cheesy, even comic at times—not a straight-faced horror flick. And I laughed that the character’s face becomes increasingly unrecognizable and yet his hands remain unaffected.
The movie’s attempt at horror is one-dimensional. Every other scene offers only a gross-out element: excrement in toilets, people vomiting profusely, a bout of evisceration, wading in sewage water—not one generates suspense, thrill, or even a minuscule attempt at playing with our expectations. It is the kind of horror picture that cannot be bothered to get its viewers to think, let alone feel for someone else’s plight. It tells its story within a town where people are dying and yet it fails to take into account human elements like people having to be displaced, people losing their loved ones, people preying on others’ fears. Clearly, the film needs not only a proper execution but also a bit of ambition.