Writer-director Todd Rohal’s new film The Catechism Cataclysm may well be the year’s strangest movie — but to elaborate further on on its weirdness would be to spoil the fun of watching it. Let’s just say that, for most of its length, the film concerns a short canoe trip taken by an inept priest named Father Billy (Steve Little from Eastbound & Down) and an old acquaintance named Robbie (Robert Longstreet, who is also the movie’s executive producer). But that none of the film’s first 50 minutes prepares you in any way for what occurs in the concluding, utterly unhinged, final act.
Below, Rohal, Little, and Longstreet discuss their film — which opened theatrically this week at New York’s IFC Centre and is available on demand from October 26 — the hazards of canoeing, and the unhelpfulness of boy scouts.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Catechism Cataclysm is a very hard movie to talk about without giving the game away. Todd, how would you try and convince someone to go and see it instead of, say, Lion King 3D?
TODD ROHAL: I can’t! I don’t know. It’s just not meant to be that way, for good or for bad. I think people are going to find this after I’m long gone or something. This is an impossible movie to pitch.
It is extremely unusual. Even two-thirds of the way through you don’t really know where’s it’s heading.
STEVE LITTLE: Yeah, I like that. I don’t know if everybody likes that. But, you know, everybody doesn’t need to like everything.
TR: We had a screening in L.A. at the Aero Theatre and I was talking to the guys that run that during the screening. They said that people would come in and ask, “What’s this movie about?” And they’d be like, “It’s best you don’t know.” And the people would be like, “No, no, no, we need to know what happens!” They were trying to say, go in and be surprised and people couldn’t tolerate that. You need to just sit back and take in whatever’s coming your way.
So, Steve and Robert, are you two guys now expert canoeists? Could you take me down some rapids?
SL: I couldn’t. I think he could.
ROBERT LONGSTREET: I might be able to, yeah. I actually do do a lot of canoeing. But we flipped the canoe when we were making the movie.
SL: There were these little rapids and Todd said, “Steve, put your hands above your head, holding the oar, like you don’t know what you’re doing.” And when I did that, we flipped. And all the sound equipment and everything got wet and we lost an $800 tripod. I told him, he can now say in interviews that that was the worst direction he’s ever given an actor.
TR: I may have done worse, actually.
Todd, the movie was inspired by your time working at a theology school?
TR: I was a janitor at a theology school for three years, yeah. It was a great job. I got to be left alone a lot. I remember listening to Howard Stern and vacuuming the floors in all the dormitories, listening to the dirtiest stuff. I actually identified with a lot of guys that were there. Some of them were going through crises, a lot of them ended up leaving. These guys were really dedicated, and I admired that, but then they couldn’t handle the tradition, or whatever it is. There’s so much pressure on you. I related to that as a filmmaker, where you’re pretty much taking the same vow of poverty to get your movies up and going and then people just assault you and are ready to s— on you.
There is a heavy metal motif running through the movie. Are you a fan?
TR: My fiancée’s sister was dating a guy who was the drummer in a death metal band from Sweden. I know it’s a weird connection, but we hung out a lot. He was a really sweet guy. He was in this band that we went to see play in New York and it was just all these kids, like 15-year-olds, from New Jersey and me at the show. [Laughs] That music is so crazy and so loud and it’s so enjoyable for… about 15 minutes. But there’s something about the whole crowd that surrounds it, and identifies with it. It’s fascinating and fun and it comes with so much danger behind it and it’s just a bunch of nerds from New Jersey. Like the lights come on and they’re all like, “Oh, I’ll see you in math class tomorrow.” I love that. “We’re into anarchy!” But they’re all in the same t-shirts.
Steve, you spend a lot of time in the movie wearing Crocs. Would you recommend them?
SL: No. No. Those were too small. They were 10s and I wear 10 and a half, 11.
Todd, could you not have gotten the man shoes that fit?
TR: This is the first I’m hearing of this. It’s disturbing.
RL: We wanted the verisimilitude of Robbie (who lends Little’s character the Crocs) just having them in his car. They’re not really made for Father Billy.
SL: Oh, that’s right. No, those were the first time I’d ever worn Crocs. I’m not a fan. Yeah. So that’s all I’ll say about that.
RL: No endorsement there!
The film was made with the assistance of Rough House Pictures, the production company set up by Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, and Matt Reilly. How did they get involved?
TR: David Green came on very early. Rob was the first one to kick in [some money] and say, “You should go make this.” And then David Green kicked in a little bit of money too, on his own. And when we were shooting I sent Danny a picture of Steve in his priest outfit next to a picture of Jesus. Danny texted back saying, “How can we help?” But they had no idea what we were shooting. Nobody read the script, ever. They just blindly supported just a bunch of bulls— going on up in Seattle.
RL: I want that to be the tag line.
Todd, you’ve just finished a movie called Scoutmasters. What can you tell us about that?
TR: It’s a movie formerly called Scoutmasters because the Boy Scouts apparently won’t let us use that title. It’s a movie that I’ve been trying to get going for a while. Now, it’s Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, and Rob Riggle. Patton kidnaps a bunch of kids and takes them into the woods on this camping trip that goes to hell pretty quickly.
Steve, is it true that you’re in the new movie by Rubber director Quentin Dupieux?
SL: Yes, I am. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say.
TR: Is it going to be as strange as Rubber?
SL: I think so. But in a different way. There’s a not a tire rolling around that blows people heads up. So he’s changing!
And you’re in the third season of Eastbound & Down?
SL: Yeah, I’ll be in that. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say…
Come on, it’s not Lost!
SL: Both those things, I think, are going to be more fun if you don’t know anything about them.
Can you just make something up?
SL: There are dinosaurs.
You can check out the Catechism Cataclysm trailer below.