Rooftop alum Todd Rohal’s The Catechism Cataclysm follows the storyline of your typical road-trip movie. On a boat. With a priest. Who’s obsessed with bad heavy metal music. (He became a priest because of Judas ____. Dig?) Throw in some Japanese tourists with a head-exploding device and a man living inside a concrete highway bunker, and voila, instant classic.
The film does indeed have a classic narrative structure, but the details veer wildly off course and the meanings are left intentionally inexplicable. Explaining any more of the plot would not only spoil some of the spontaneity of the humor, but also run counter to the anti-catechism ideology of the film: in many ways, this is a story about the joy of stories—so long as they aren’t held to the specifics of instructive parable.
The priest (Steve Little) opens the film with a funny tale about an old woman and some would-be car thieves, but he gets in trouble with the church for not having a moral tied in. The former metal band buddy (Robert “Sundance” Longstreet) tells a wild story about a failed suicide, and but the Japanese tourists don’t get it and give him the thumbs down (and worse). And even the bible will let you down if you try to understand it: the climactic and brilliant song is “God Will Fuck You Up.” No one ever learns anything from these stories—and good luck trying, filled with delicious absurdity as they are—but the journey is all the more fun for the pure lunacy.
Shot in 16 straight days, flipping skillfully between wild improv, elaborate surreal set pieces and b-movie pyrotechnics, all based on a 20-page treatment director Todd Rohal had been batting around for a while, Cataclysm bustles with a frenetic energy fitting for those means of production. Rooftop has been screening Rohal’s films since 2000—Knuckleface Jones, Hillbilly Robot, The Guatemalan Handshake—all delicately crafted bouts of absurdism filled with outsider characters grappling with deep insecurity.
Here, Steve Little’s priest is a hilariously wound-up ball of repression, confusion and idiocy, and his humor provides consistent laughs. Crucial to the film, however, is one genuinely touching and revealing moment, when Little makes a startling and heartbreaking confession to Longstreet. That the moment occurs while the two men suffer through diarrhea in a truck stop toilet perfects the significance of this significant deliberately meaningless b-movie brilliance.
(Unpack that sentence and win a prize.)