Friday PJ and I went spent the evening at the Athens Film Festival, where we saw Catechism Cataclysm, a new movie by Todd Rohal, an alum of my college. It’s always great to see our students’ and alumni’s work, but I was tempted to just stay home — it had been a long and busy week. But I went out, and I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed this movie.

The movie stars Steve Little as Father William Smoortser, a goofball who seems more interested in watching funny clips on YouTube than in preparing his parishioners for salvation. Consequently, his superior decides to send him on vacation a little early, encouraging him to think deeply about his calling before coming back to the church.

Father William arranges to meet up with his childhood hero, the guy who dated his older sister in high school, Robbie Shoemaker, played by Robert Longstreet. Robbie is everything Billy isn’t: cool, experienced, and world-wise. The two embark on an afternoon canoe trip, but after Billy accidentally drops his Bible into a used toilet, things start to go increasingly awry for the two acquaintances.

Writing a review of this film is difficult, because part of its joy is not knowing what’s going to happen next. In fact, this is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time in which I had no idea what was going to happen next. The plot just keeps getting more and more crazy, creating a roller coaster of adventure and discovery that twists and turns in directions that are completely unpredictable. I loved the ride!

First off, this movie is hilarious. Father Billy is completely inept at his job, and Little plays him as a comic buffoon. He’s a sweet, well-intentioned guy, but he’s also kind of a loser. For example, he treasures his Bible mostly because he uses it as an autograph book rather than because of its message. Robbie gives him his first beer, which immediately makes him drunk. This results in a hilarious scene in which Billy and Robbie discuss the homoerotic potential of their relationship.The shots of Billy wiggling his eyebrows without understanding the suggestiveness of the movement, for example, are crazy funny.

Second, Catechism Cataclysm is also a buddy movie. We get to know Billy and Robbie, and there are a few touching moments in which fundamental truths are revealed. But these moments never get in the way of the comedy, which is good.

Third, this movie is kind of disturbing. As Rohal explained in the talk back, he wrote it as a drama, directed it as a comedy, and edited as a horror movie. As it goes along, this latter element comes to the foreground. I don’t want to give much away, but once Billy and Robbie get lost, things become increasingly weird and bad shit starts to happen.

This bad shit ultimately leads to a scene in which the following song is played as part of the movie’s soundtrack. It’s a masterpiece of religious comedy:

I love this song! It’s irreverence and humor is catchy. PJ and I have been singing it ever since.

I really enjoyed everything about this movie — its humor, the acting, the craziness, and everything in between. Ultimately, like riding a roller coaster you just have to give yourself over to the pleasure of not knowing what’s happening or what’s coming next (and like a roller coaster, there’s at least one scene in which audience members screamed!).

I highly recommend Catechism Cataclysm.

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