Holy merde! The Canadian horror film Septic Man wades through a cesspool of human waste without apology; the yuck factor challenges your gag reflex at every turn. The plot is (toilet) paper thin: A sewage technician (Brown) investigating the water contamination that has triggered the outbreak of a deadly Ebola-like disease in an Ontario township becomes entrapped in the noxious muck of an old septic tank littered with infected corpses dumped there by two mutant siblings straight out of a freak show. Inexplicably, this contaminated environment doesn’t kill the hapless Jack, but rather transforms him into the hideous Septic Man, an anthropological turd who’s literally full of shit. Think of him as the scatological Toxic Avenger. Or not.
Needless to say, Septic Man is not for the squeamish. It lacks socially redeeming value, except for the occasional poignancy of Jack’s slow dehumanization into something unspeakable. His predicament echoes the buggy transformation of Seth Brundle of The Fly, though this blue-collar mensch more readily accepts his fate than the mad scientist in Cronenberg’s 1986 horror classic. Indeed, director Cook and screenwriter Tony Burgess don’t merely pay homage to The Fly, they steal from it. In one nightmare sequence, Jack imagines his pregnant wife giving birth to a squirming larva; in another scene, he muses about a detached ear. Even some of Alex Rotundo’s latex headpieces perilously copy the groundbreaking makeup Jeff Goldblum endured almost 30 years ago.
As reward for enduring the ignominies of the role (including spewing watery vomit and biting the heads off rats), Brown was named best actor in the Horror Features category at last year’s Fantastic Fest, where the film had its world premiere. When not engaged in disgusting acts, the entombed Jack rambles on and on to himself as he slowly descends into fecal madness. To Brown’s credit, he makes the best of a crappy situation. But it’s McHattie’s bizarre turn as the beleaguered town’s mayor that steals this show. Taking his cue from another infamous Ontario public servant, he gives a performance that can only be described as bat-shit crazy. Fitting, eh?