All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms
"Whilst the film may appear chaotic, there’s real artistry behind the scenes, and not just when it comes to special effects."

Once upon a time, when I was in my early teens and my mother was working as a teacher, I was called in to assist after a whole class of primary school children became obsessed with worms, digging for them outside, frantically filling their pockets with as many as they could get and bringing them into the classroom. I gently explained that worms are living things and need to be in the ground to feel safe and get food, and gradually we returned them, but the speed with which the craze had struck fascinated me. A few years later, I would see similarly intense crazes amongst the frequent drug users I knew – somebody would suggest grinding up dried banana skins or eating vast quantities of blue smarties to get high, and lots of them would rush to try it. Alex Phillips’ wonderfully inventive début feature brings these elements together and poses the question: what if people collected worms in order to get wasted on them?

Worms, man. The things you go into the garden to eat when everybody hates you. Long thin slimy ones. Short fat fuzzy ones. They’re all here. Benny (Trevor Dawkins) is first offered one by a sex worker with whom he fails to copulate. They could share it, Lady And The Tramp style, she suggests. He hesitates, not wanting to harm a living thing, but anyone might hesitate the first time. There are a lot of pressures in Benny’s life. He has a deep longing to become a father, but his attempt to acquire a substitute baby my mail ordering something from the Youth Pleasure Range is a failure – what he receives is not what he expected and its associations may well revolt viewers to the point where they no longer feel able to watch the film. That would be a shame, but retaining viewers is not something for which Phillips seems remotely prepared to compromise.

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The Fantasia International Film Festival frequently contains some bizarre and unsettling offerings on the fringes of the main line-up, but this one is still generating extreme reactions, which is curious because it is, at heart, a sweet story about trying to find oneself, however messily. Alongside Benny, it follows Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello), a junkie who is on the brink of losing his girlfriend to their best friend when he discovers that the thrill of using worms is just what he needs to regain her attention. Subsequently, he and Benny embark upon a series of adventures, spreading the word and inadvertently falling foul of a couple of psychopaths who get their kicks from violence and are ready to take worm use to extremes.

The latter part of the film bears notable similarities to David Cronenberg classic Videodrome, as it becomes increasingly difficult for protagonists and audience alike to distinguish between dream and reality. As in that film, there are references to the influence of the media, and we see clips of a programme on which people are urged to expand their consciousness. Events take a more sinister turn with the implication that the same large, floating, vaguely worm-like being is visible to different characters at different times, increasingly influencing their thoughts.

Whilst the film may appear chaotic, there’s real artistry behind the scenes, and not just when it comes to special effects. There’s some brilliant model work, but elsewhere a lot of mileage is gained from very cheap and simple effects. There is no evidence of a worm being harmed at any stage during production. The action scenes are handled with skill and the cinematography adds a good deal to the mood of the piece, whilst ensuring that the storytelling is clear even in low light conditions.

There is a lot of grotesque imagery here, and even if you usually have a strong stomach, it is inadvisable to watch the film whilst eating (especially spaghetti). In embracing this, however, Phillips acquires a degree of artistic freedom, addressing real world behaviours and capturing a distinctive energy which people who have lived on the margins of society will recognise. There’s a do it yourself ethos at work in both the filmmaking and its subject, and it is at once a cautionary tale and a celebration of its characters’ efforts to lead full, satisfying lives even when more socially acceptable means of doing so are denied to them. This is immersive filmmaking with a strong outsider voice. If you can let go of your prejudices, you’ll find it a joy to watch. Just remember that worms are living things, and don’t try it at home.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2022
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All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms packshot
A wriggling, drug-induced creature feature.

Director: Alex Phillips

Writer: Alex Phillips

Starring: Betsey Brown, Phillip Andre Botello, Noah Lepawsky, Trevor Dawkins, Mike Lopez

Year: 2022

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: US

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