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Worm (2013)

Synapse Films
DVD Released: 8/12/2014

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/21/2014

As a nation who often has a difficult time facing problems or issues head on, we love a good allegory. Of all of the entertainment mediums, it seems that science-fiction is best outlet for creating a story which appears to be about one thing, but is really tackling a much more cogent and real topic. From the civil rights movement in X-Men to the rise of communism in Animal Farm, stories about the fantastic can easily mask a much deeper meaning. When done correctly, the story can be enjoyed for its solely surface, and those who grasp the symbolism will like it even more. Worm takes aim at combining a quirky story with allegory. Has it bitten off more than it can chew?

Worm takes place in a world which looks a lot like ours, save for the fact that (for reasons never explained) humans have lost the ability to dream. To combat this, a company has introduced Fantasites, which are worms which one places in the ear. The worms dissolve and are absorbed into the brain, which induces dreams. This product has been heavily marketed and is featured on news stories. Charles (John Ferguson) is an introverted and nervous man who oversees an apartment building with his elderly father (Scott Ferguson). Charles doesn't have any friends and he often strikes up awkward conversations with the building's tenants. He is taken with the idea of Fantasites, but doesn't have the money for them. When Charles learns that his neighbor Reed (Shane O'Brien) uses the worms, Charles decides to use his savings to get Fantasites. He then learns that, while he has purchased the "Economy" dreams, Reed has the "Premium" package. So, Charles switches out their worms and begins to experience elaborate dreams. Charles also becomes infatuated with June (Jes Mercer), Reed's girlfriend. Charles now feels conflicted between the life which he has and the one which he wants.

Writer/Director Doug Mallette has created a movie of illusions and mis-leading notions. As noted above, the movie has a decidedly science-fiction plot, but the film plays much more like a drama. The Fantasites are merely a catalyst for Charles to take a look at his life and decide that he wants to be like Reed and June. We see him attempt to woo June, emulate Reed, and deal with his ailing father. Charles is a decidedly sad sack character, and even without the worms, we can see that he has distinct psychological problems and the his social awkwardness moves quickly into obsession. Also, the bloody cover art implies that this is a horror film, but it isn't, although there is some light gore late in the movie.

At first glance, Worm may seem like an original idea, but Mallette is clearly paying homage to some other movies here. The main concept feels like something from a David Cronenberg movie, specifically his early film Crimes of the Future. The fact that the way in which the worms work and that people simply accept this idea certainly has a Cronenberg touch. The use of commercials and newscast to illustrate how Fantasites are viewed by the rest of the world reminded me of Paul Verhoeven's similar concepts in RoboCop and Starship Troopers. The film's allegorical approach, which we'll discuss next, is very similar to that found in Frank Henenlotter's 1988 film Brain Damage (But, Henenlotter did it better.)

You don't have to dig very deep to see that Worm is a thinly veiled treatise on addiction and consumerism. Despite the fact that he has no money, Charles goes to the Fantasites store anyway, because that's what Americans do, especially when we want to live beyond our means. Once Charles (and Reed and June as well) are introduced to the world of Fantasites, they become addicted to the worms and this begins to run their lives. When things take a turn for the worse in the second act, the movie makes no bones about the drug connection, as Charles' behavior begins to mimic that of an addict.

The problem with Worm is that Mallette doesn't know how to make any of these ideas and themes very interesting. Much of the film is dreadfully boring and it is made up of dialogue scenes which feel very repetitious. It's not until over an hour into the movie that something truly new and original occurs. This certainly got my attention, but it didn't make up for hour that first hour felt as if it were dragging along. It doesn't help that Charles is such an unlikable main character. I think that the viewer is supposed to feel sorry for Charles, but his neediness and his delusions push him into a creepy zone which keeps the audience at a distance. (Come to think of it, I didn't care for any of the characters here.) Mallette based Worm on a short film, which is actually very good. But, we can feel him attempting to stretch out the material here, and the result is a movie which takes an interesting central premise and then falls into a dreamless sleep at the wheel.

Worm offers some nice Ben Cooper-like costumes on DVD courtesy of Synapse Films. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is soft in some shots, but this appears to be intentional, and the depth is good for a DVD. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The dream sequences contain some musical cues which are evident in the stereo channels and the sound effects never drown out the dialogue. Otherwise, we don't get any dynamic sound effects.

The Worm DVD contains a few extras. Things are kicked off by an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Doug Mallette, Producer Jeremy Pearce, Digital Effects Artist Julian Herrera, & Producer Jennifer Bonior. The original short film Worm (8 minutes) is included here, and it features some of the same actors. I preferred the short, as it didn't try so hard to be bleak and it actually showed us the "Economy" dream. This actually works a lot better as a short. The DVD offers six DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. The bulk of what we get here are more awkward dialogue scenes with Charles. This does include a moment where Charles' father learns about the Fantasites. The extras are rounded out by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for Worm.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long