The Catechism Cataclysm is, at its best, like a carefully-worded letter from a secret admirer. Lovingly packed away in a snug envelope, perhaps adorned with some original artwork, your first impulse is joy, a warm feeling that comes from knowing someone cares enough to have taken the time. Then you start to notice that this person knows entirely too much about you. Details jump out from an otherwise head-over-heels venerable letter - the specifics of your house, the mole on your wife's left cheek, what your kids wore last Tuesday. You suddenly begin to sweat, shaking off a lasting chill running down your spine. Just what is going on here?
Todd Rohal's oddball film, partially funded via Kickstarter ($50 or more gets you a prank call to the individual of your choice from Rohal, DP Ben Kasulke and Longstreet!), begs the same question. The strengths of The Catechism Cataclysm lie it its ability to slyly refuse even a moment's respite from the mad, mad world and the abyss its protagonists tiptoe around and then tumble into. This is the story of Father William (Billy to his friends, played by Steve Little), a man who seemingly stumbled into priesthood and now wishes to lumber out. Distracted and childish, Father Billy can hardly be bother to illuminate matters of faith for his parish, but can always regale them with a story that tickles the brain but has little to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The father has made room in his life for another kind of hero worship: Robbie Shoemaker (Robert Longstreet), rock star, master storyteller, and some guy who dated Billy's sister in high school. After bombarding Robbie with countless emails, Billy daunts the older man into a canoe-trip that quickly turns odder and odder still.
That's essentially the plot, but don't mistake the film for a D-grade throwaway. Little and Longstreet make a killer pair, each inhabiting characters that may not appear complex from the onset, but reveal surprising depth in the brief 75-minute running time. Little manages the mammoth task of making Father Billy seem like a lost soul, endearing instead of grating even as his priestly ways bump against Robbie's curse-peppered cynical observations. Longstreet makes the bigger impression despite having a largely reactant role - Robbie's early reveal as something far removed from the rock star splendor imagined by Father Billy isn't milked for empathy. Rather, Longstreet presents Robbie as a spurned cynic whose self-respect is kindled by Father Billy's reverent memories of a younger, more ambitious would-be rockstar.
One aspect of the film that may turn off viewers counting on this buddy comedy to continue along a predetermined route arrives in the form of two overcaffeinated Japanese women and their humongous, silent bodyguard. This write felt the shift was uneasy but loved Rohal's ballsy decision to stick it out and transition into something significantly stranger and even threatening. The less told the better, but rest assured the final act of The Catechism Cataclysm is a rollercoaster of the damned, a strange, condemned journey that sees Father Billy face something truly weird.
Having enjoyed The Catechism Cataclysm thoroughly, would I recommend it to anyone? Not necessarily - it's a particular film and certainly a divisive one (a quick look at the varying online opinions stands as proof). This writer found it frequently chuckle-worthy, always well-acted and shot, and occasionally even thought-provoking. What Rohal captures with true brilliance is the unpredictability of life, the lack of a safe place in a world that can metamorphosis into something unfriendly in no time flat, and whether faith is enough of a refuge. Is it?
A 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer is very solid, set almost entirely outside and lit skillfully by DP Kasulke. Skin tones and natural colors appear to be in fine order and a lengthy nighttime scene late into the film offers unexpected visual clarity.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is understandably low-key, although it does pick up in the third act when our leads listen to some avant-garde techno and then...something strange happens. Dialogue and soundtrack are acceptable.
A commentary with Rohal, Little and Longstreet single-handedly justifies a rewatch of the film. The trio dissect and defend the film, with Little making the least impression but Rohal and Longstreet make up for it with their good-natured banter. Rohal's short film Sasquatch Birth Journal 2 is included and must be seen to be believed. Also on hand are Outtakes and two trailers, US and Japanese. One of them captures the tone of the film and the other does not. Can you guess which one that is?
The Catechism Cataclysm gets an easy Recommended but if anything you've read here sparked interest instead of disdain, a Highly Recommended rating is for you. A canoe trip like no other.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...