SUNDANCE REVIEW: Park City at Midnight Selection 'Septien' Is Messy Genre Mashup

An erratic narrative pastiche lacking stylistic coherence.

PARK CITY -- (Park City at Midnight) Dysfunctional family dynamics take center stage in actor-writer-director Michael Tully's Park City at Midnight selection Septien, an offbeat slice of Americana that's neither fish nor fowl. Following its recent VOD debut simultaneous with the festival premiere as part of the "Direct from the Sundance Film Festival" initiative, Sundance Selects will release the film theatrically later this year, although audience response is likely to muted.

Brothers Ezra (Robert Longstreet) and Amos (Onur Tukel) live on a rundown farm inherited from their parents. Since the government pays them not to produce any crops, they simply collect their subsidy and while away their days – Ezra obsessively cleaning and cooking, while Amos paints bizarre, violently sexual canvases out in the barn.

Things take a turn when their brother Cornelius (Michael Tully) returns unannounced and without explanation after an 18-year absence. Old conflicts quickly reemerge, especially between Cornelius and Amos, with motherly Ezra trying to keep the peace.

When their toilet erupts, the plumber (Mark Darby Robinson), who shows up with a nubile young companion (Rachel Korine), turns out to be the brothers' old nemesis, their former high school football coach. It'll take a mysterious itinerant preacher (John Maringouin) and some serious fire and brimstone to set these 'ol boys right again.

Weakly spoofing, or at least deliberately tweaking, Southern Gothic conventions, writer-director Tully can't fully get his arms around this messy genre mashup. Attempts at humor often come off as simply strange, dramatic elements churn but don't coalesce and mild stabs at horror fall flat. The performances are either too underplayed to connect or overplayed to the point of caricature.

Tully directs his sophomore narrative feature with competence and a bit of flair -- the visuals are clean and nicely composed, and the rural imagery is at least pleasant to look at, thanks to the Super-16mm lensing. Tighter creative control might have resulted in a somewhat interesting narrative of crisis and redemption – or else a darkly profane comedy – rather than a bemusing thematic mishmash.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Park City at Midnight
Production company: Nomadic Independence Pictures
Cast: Michael Tully, Robert Longstreet, Onur Tukel, Mark Darby Robinson, Rachel Korine, Jim Willingham, John Maringouin
Director-screenwriter: Michael Tully
Producers: Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, Brent Stewart
Executive producers: Andrew Krucoff, Robert Longstreet
Director of photography: Jeremy Saulnier
Music: Michael Montes
Editor: Marc Vives
Sales: Holly Herrick
No rating, 79 minutes