Describing Septien as a Southern gothic satire, which is as close a categorization as can be managed for something so devotedly strange, belies what an unwinking film it actually is. The setup and storyline are absurd, but the angst underneath is as earnest as a campfire confession. Repressive father figures, Evangelicalism, the specter of childhood abuse, a crumbling property, sports, and outsider art all figure into this tale of three brothers struggling to literally exorcise their personal demons. Underneath the oddness, a sense of disappointment with the grown-ups they’ve become radiates from the main characters, each of whom seems to have become resigned to simply riding out the rest of his life in stagnation.
Robert Longstreet and Onur Tukel stars as brothers who live in their family’s ramshackle Tennessee house; their parents are long dead and the government pays them not to farm, which leaves them plenty of time for housekeeping, in the former’s case, and drawing violent sexual illustrations, in the latter’s. A slow-witted, not-quite-employee sleeps in a giant tire outside. This domestic bliss is interrupted by the return of their youngest sibling (played by director Michael Tully), a former high-school football star who left home without explanation 18 years ago. He refuses to elaborate on where he was, and spends his days huffing gasoline and hustling tennis, basketball, or whatever else he can find, his resemblance to the Unabomber disguising his amusing athletic prowess.
Septien seems to fall at the intersection of The Royal Tenenbaums, with the stylized stunting of its adult characters, unable to escape the long shadows of their youth, and the work of Harmony Korine, the indie world’s reigning documenter of fond grotesquerie and Southern decay. (Korine’s wife even has a role in the film.) But it’s rougher and less precise than Wes Anderson, and not as confrontational as Korine, getting mileage and dark humor instead out of a sense of bemused acceptance as the action escalates toward a confrontation with the past, with magical touches. Tukel (who laments never getting around to being gay—“it’s too late for me, though”) appears to have developed the ability to draw the future, but no one seems terribly impressed or interested. (“Draw us winning the lottery,” Tully suggests.) Later, a preacher with mystical powers walks right into the brothers’ kitchen and offers to help them: “This house is unclean,” he declares. In a line that may best sum up Septien’s oddball sensibility, Longstreet answers with deep, mildly affronted seriousness, “No, I clean this house every day.”