Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Taplitz is a real find, bringing depth to a character who doesn't get much room to express emotion given the film's dry, mannered style."

Navigating adolescence is never easy. Many a high school movie has explored the social pressures that exist alongside the pressure of schoolwork - the need for approval and a safe path through to adulthood, which usually requires negotiating some sort of romantic relationship or at least a first kiss. Now imagine how it would feel if that kiss were part of schoolwork, a mandatory stage in psychosocial development without which it was not possible to complete the year. Imagine that until you had kissed you had to wear an electronic collar that everyone could see, marking you out first as a child and then, more and more, as a social failure.

Such is the world in which Wyrm (Theo Taplitz) is growing up. He's a naturally awkward, skinny, odd-looking youth with big round glasses who has spent more of his life talking to plastic dinosaurs than to girls. He's also socially isolated by grief, having lost his older brother not long ago. His mother is away, his father is either at work or hiding in the bathroom, and he's falling out with the twin sister who has been his closest friend for most of his life (but has already shed her collar and formed an approved relationship). The only people really looking out for him - and that not very well - are his uncle and his uncle's unfeasibly attractive girlfriend, whose presence would be confusing enough for a heterosexual teenage boy at the best of times.

Christopher Winterbauer's film, adapted from his 2017 short, is ostensibly a piece of science fiction but sticks, for the most part, to a fairly straightforward dramatic narrative. As Wyrm struggles with the issues raised by his collar and the attitudes of school staff who aim to follow the No Child Left Alone programme, he's also focused on collecting audio tributes to his brother for a planned memorial. Doing so ultimately forces him to confront his feelings about what his brother was actually like, and to come to terms with the different grieving processes of those around him.

Wyrm doesn't really scale up very well to 106 minutes and would benefit from being tightened up, but there's a lot here to enjoy. Taplitz is a real find, bringing depth to a character who doesn't get much room to express emotion given the film's dry, mannered style. With Wyrm the butt of much of the humour, there's a risk that viewers will themselves look down on him and disconnect, but Taplitz overcomes that. Azure Brandi is also impressive as his sister - they make a convincing pair of twins - whilst Lulu Wilson shines as her friend Izzy, a girl who might just possibly have an interest in our hero.

There's a lot of cruelty on display here but it's a petty cruelty that comes from pain or from the kind of self-obsession that blinds one to other people's feelings. A lot of the comedy stems from the characters' inability to really notice one another despite obsessing about one another's behaviour. Winterbauer uses a shallow depth of field in many scenes to make characters and their surroundings look two dimensional, whilst his colour palette frequently resembles that of school and government advice leaflets. The sets are beautifully detailed, with those in the kids' rooms providing lots of unspoken backstory. Not quite the future, this offbeat universe contains a curious blend of technologies. The internet doesn't appear until close to the end, as if Wyrm's reality were giving way to our own as a result of his coming of age.

This kind of quirky humour doesn't work for everyone and it's not clear that Wyrm will ever attract large audiences, but some viewers will fall in love with it and there's a good chance that it will go on to attract a cult following. It's certainly a new way to frame a high school movie.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2019
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In a retro-future alternate universe where children wear electronic collars to monitor their sexual development, one boy, Wyrm, has fallen woefully behind.

Director: Christopher Winterbauer

Writer: Christopher Winterbauer

Starring: Theo Taplitz, Alanna Ubach, Mel Rodriguez, Lulu Wilson

Year: 2019

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: US


Fantastic 2019

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