Originally published on February 6, 2011
“Catechism Cataclysm,” the second feature from writer/director Todd Rohal, is my kind of funny, surreal, nightmarish film. While it certainly isn’t for everyone (read: it’s really, really weird) if you like funny movies that are fairly outside the norm, you’ll be laughing and cringing as I was throughout the film.
Steve Little plays Father William, a priest so unsure of his chosen profession that calling what he’s going through a question of faith seems shortsighted. A complete and total dork, William doesn’t seem to hate his job inasmuch as he’s totally confused by what he’s supposed to be doing and this attracts all kinds of negative attention from his superiors as well as his congregation. In an effort to help William (or Billy, to his friends) see the light, the church agrees he should take a few days and go on vacation to refocus himself. Billy decides to enlist “old buddy” Robbie (Longstreet), who he hasn’t seen since high school, to spend the day on a beer-soaked canoe trip. Robbie reluctantly agrees and soon what seems to be a pretty classically structured buddy movie takes off. However “Catechism Cataclysm” is not a standard buddy movie.
I was a big fan of Rohal’s “Guatemalan Handshake,” a similarly absurdist comedy that came out in 2006. Aside from being funny, I was attracted to the way Rohal weaves stories inside of the story of the film and he does the same thing here. When a character tells a tall tale or some kind of urban myth, the camera takes a left turn into their story and we see it play out before our eyes. Then we’re back to the film at hand. The overall story, movies and stories inside the movie are great and also play into what the characters are going through onscreen. Well, they sort-of do.
As the canoe trip goes on, truths come out and they’re often painful and sad. As things devolve and get crazier, viewers have to keep their head in the game and wonder what’s real and what’s not. I don’t want to get all meta but the fact you’re questioning reality inside of a fictional film says something about the effectiveness of the movie. Steve Little is pretty much the same “Stevie” character he plays in “Eastbound and Down” and I enjoy what he does. It may be running thin but it still makes me laugh and Rohal uses Little really well here. Robert Longstreet is also terrific as a man equally despondent over where his life has gone, but the true star of the film is Rohal, who knows how to tell a tale as creatively as anyone writing today.