Worm DVD Review
Written by Angry Scholar
DVD released by Synapse Films
Directed by Doug Mallette
Written by Untrademarked Productions (Doug Mallette, Julian Herrera, Jennifer Bonior and Jeremy Pearce)
2013, Region 0, 94 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released August 12th, 2014
John Ferguson as Charles
Shane O'Brien as Reed
Jes Mercer as June
Thirty years ago, humanity stopped dreaming. Not in a metaphorical, hoping-for-the-future sense, but literally: human brains are no longer capable of generating dreams during sleep. For some reason this new dreamless state brings with it a general despondency, not enough for people to stop living their lives, but enough that they are apparently willing to drop wriggling little parasites into their own ears a la Star Trek II. These are "Fantasites," squirmy lil' friends that somehow screw around with your brain in such a way as to give you, like, super cool dreams, man.
Anxious, awkward, somewhat slow-witted Charles is the son of an apartment landlord. Charles sees everyone around him trying Fantasites and desperately wants in on that, yo, because who wouldn't? At first he can only afford the "economy" version, but peer pressure and jealousy convince him to swap a tenant's "premium" worms with his own. When Charles finally gets around to slipping a worm into his ear, we're treated to his fantasy: his dream-self strutting around in disco duds and aviator glasses, dancing at a party, and-that's it. It hardly seems worth the whole deliberately putting a frickin' parasite into your goddamned brain thing, but to each his own. The next time he, uh, worms, Charles imagines himself frolicking in the great outdoors with tenant Reed (from whom he stole the good shit) and Reed's girlfriend June, dressed in old-timey clothing and riding on horse-sized dogs, because, again, worms in his brain. And the poor guy just wants to have friends.
As the movie progresses, we learn through brief news clips featuring interviews with a scientist that, of course, the miracle worms are in fact less beneficial than originally supposed. People get addicted, the worms don't do what they're supposed to, and bad stuff ensues. As society moves to illegalize the worms, things break down for the main characters, all of whom have been using them to escape their crappy, petty lives.
According to visual effects supervisor/co-writer Julian Herrera, the film wasn't really "written" in the normal sense. Instead the actors were given an outline around which they improvised their dialogue. The result is equal parts charming, funny and tragic. John Ferguson is actually pretty wonderful as Charles, appropriately awkward-bordering-on-creepy, desperately asking Reed if he wants to hang out and "cut loose," frantically pestering everyone who'll talk to him about their experiences with Fantasites. Shane O'Brien is likewise better than average as the assholish Reed, and Jes Mercer gives a solid performance as the ill-used and addicted June. Some of the supporting cast are less stellar, but in all the quality of acting is a pleasant surprise.
Most of the film is amusingly goofy, reminiscent of the hyper-self-referential kitsch of films like Starship Troopers (complete with cutaways to insufferably cute TV spots, on-screen graphics, etc.). There's a lot of deliberate silliness, and the film feels like a spoof, but it's not exactly clear of what-and in this context, this vaguely parodic vibe actually works.
Things take a turn for the dark in the film's last third, once the worms are illegal but the demand for dreams remains. The exact scene when the change really comes-the "harvesting" of black-market worms-involves an act of horrific but predictable violence, reminding us powerfully that in this world people are so desperately unhappy that they will fill their own skulls full of parasites. It comes as no surprise, then, that they will also rip said parasites out of the skulls in which they currently reside if that's what it takes to make a buck or get a fix.
The film isn't flawless: some of the aforementioned silliness gets kind of grating, and beyond the three main cast members, the performances are generally lackluster (although the main antagonist, Josh Matthews, is just great). Also, why doesn't Charles seem to suffer any of the negative effects of the worms? That bugged me, but maybe I missed something. But taken as a whole, Worm is an excellent, weird, enjoyable, and sad film. I didn't expect to like it at all, honestly, and I'm happy to say that I was proven very wrong. I'd very much like to see more by Untrademarked Productions, and I'll be keeping an eye out for their next project.
Video and Audio:
For the most part the production is excellent. The camerawork is occasionally a bit odd, with lingering close-ups in scenes that don't seem to merit it; this is not necessarily bad, but marks the film as an indie effort. Similarly, the music sometimes seems to drown out the dialogue, making actors off-screen a bit difficult to hear. These occasions are rare, though, and overall audio and video are quite good.
The music, though, is pretty fun: it ranges from funk to synthy '80s-pop kitsch (in a good way) to folksy jazzy fiddle and I'm pretty sure Theremin. The ending credits song, "Black Swamp Village" by the Speakeasies' Swing Band, is eminently playlistable. In all, an awesome soundtrack, not even a little bit like what you might expect from a glance at the cover.
- WORM - Original Short Film (8 minutes)
- Deleted Scenes (11 minutes)
- Audio Commentary by producers Jeremy Pearce and Jennifer Bonior, visual effects artist Julian Herrera, and director Doug Mallette
- Original trailers
Worm (The Short Film) is, as the name suggests, the original 8-minute short that preceded the feature film. It is, if anything, even more polished than the full-length movie, more overtly comedic, and very much worth a watch.
The deleted scenes feature a lot of Charles being awkward, but don't really impact the plot or the characters' development in any significant way (hence the cutting). But if you like seeing Charles be awkward, which I do, then you might enjoy them.
The audio commentary consists of a lot of giggling and a lot of stories about the difficulties of filming a low-budget indie film. Interestingly there were apparently a lot of actual worms getting dropped into actual ears, so. That's awful. But worth it!