Sundance 2011: The not-quite horror of 'Septien'
The movie "Septien" is premiering Sunday night as part of the Sundance Film Festival's Park City at Midnight section, which has been home to not only some of the event's commercial breakthroughs but also some of its weirdest freak shows over the years.
"Septien" centers on a family of adult brothers living in a remote house in the woods. Each deals in his own way with the painful traumas of their childhood. One has assumed the role of mother, perhaps a little too strongly, another immerses himself in art, and third hustles for money and huffs gas. There is something just plain wrong with these people, implying that something very, very bad could happen at nearly any time. That blood never flows and heads never roll is arguably more strange, as the film maintains a feeling of being constantly on the verge of eruption, as if something super-crazy could just happen next.
"There are going to be some disappointed genre heads out there," said Michael Tully, the film's director, writer and co-star, from his home in Brooklyn prior to the fest. "Everybody brings their own baggage into a movie, but I want to stress that it's not a horror film in the way of a 'Saw' film, but there is an unsettling creepiness about it."
The movie comes into the festival already having distribution in place, premiering simultaneously on video-on-demand as part of the group of films chosen by Sundance Selects. And while that may rob Tully of the classic Sundance experience of an all-night bidding war, he is glad to enter the festival without the worry of what happens next.
"It's just a real load off, and it feels a bit like a freakish lottery win — the fact that everyone will see their money back, this movie will pay for itself and be with a legitimate distributor and have a small theatrical guarantee," he said, "I feel like we got to have our cake and eat it too. It's just exciting on every level."
Tully is involved with the website Hammer to Nail, which focuses on "ambitious cinema," and he also maintains a personal blog on indieWIRE. Prior to Sundance, we wrote a post saying he was looking forward to seeing the much talked-about world of video-on-demand from the inside, hopefully pulling back the veil on some of the mysteries surrounding this emerging distribution platform.
"I am well aware that a movie starring a bearded non-actor like me where nobody knows who this person is probably not going to get as many rentals as Jessica Alba, strong sexual content, 'The Killer Inside Me,' " Tully said, mentioning a title that was a recent VOD success.
"Definitely any reporting back I do is always going to be with the disclaimer that this isn't what VOD numbers are across the board. But I think it's almost more revealing that way because we're talking about a movie with no familiar faces, a sort of strange short story of a film."
And as much as Tully likes the idea of people seeing the film in a theater, he also hopes that just as he found oddball films on late-night TV when he was younger, someone somewhere might get their mind scrambled by his own genre experiment.
"The spirit of the thing was the hope that someone would stumble on it at 2 a.m. and just start watching what they think is this little quirky drama," Tully said. "Then it just starts bending in other directions, to where they're thinking, 'Is this the same movie?' or even not remembering what they go into. This was made to be discovered on TV as much as it was in a movie theater."
— Mark Olsen
Photo: Scene from "Septien" courtesy Sundance Film Festival