Worm (2013) DVD Review

rsz_worm1WORM (Dir- Doug Malette, USA, 2013)

Starring- John Ferguson, Jes Mercer, Shane O’Brien, Scott Ferguson, Josh Matthews

Out NOW (and cheap) from LEFT FILMS!

Having already been reviewed on this site before almost 3 years ago in fact, WORM has been on the shelf waiting for a UK DVD release and its thankfully arrived via the good folks of LEFT FILMS who have been making a habit of picking up quirky low budget genre fare and putting out on general release. WORM is another example of quirky and unusual and having little to no knowledge of the film I decided to give it a shot and see if it can bring something new to the table or end up falling off it in more ways than one.

Set in a near future where people cannot dream any more, a corporation has got around that little set back by allowing consumers to purchase nicely presented packaging which contains a genetically modified worm. The worm can be placed into the ear and dissolves on the brain allowing the user to dream brilliant fantasies. Our central character Charles (Ferguson) wants the worms, known as fantasites, to escape his mundane life. However he cannot afford the premium brand and has to settle for the economy brand. When this brand is not enough to impress one of his tenants, Reed (O’Brien), who is a premium user and worker at a news channel which is investigating the side effects of fantasites, Charles’s luck soon changes when he finds a box of premium brand left outside his apartment. With his confidence soon improved Charles wants to be friends with Reed more but only for his own desire to start a relationship with his live in girlfriend June (Mercer). However a humiliating dinner date between the three leads to Charles slipping into the fantasites more and more, neglecting real life. Once the fantasites have been found to cause more harm they are banned and our three central worm addled users becoming increasingly desperate to get their fix prompting them to buy and become involved with dubious and violent dealers that start to lead to darker and desperate consequence’s for all involved.

rsz_worm2In its execution WORM is a film that acts almost like a drug in its layout. Starting with a first part that seems colourful, funny, vibrant and at times harmless, then slowly dipping into a more desperate part that sees people becoming more and more closed off, to eventually where things take a darker and more violent tone and the euphoria is replaced by desperation, betrayal and eventually self loathing. This is one of the elements that is most impressive of the film and Malette perfectly embraces you into this world. Admittedly whilst the concept of people not dreaming is an element that could do with a bit more explanation, the story’s drive and ambition is such that the alternate world we are in, is one that we recognise but with the added warped bonus in a TWILIGHT ZONE-esque alternative earth kind of way where worms on our brain are a part of life leading to the films second part where human intuition and scientific as well as journalistic investigation, discover the negative impact of the use of fantasites. Indeed the second part and the conclusion is the films strongest element with the illegalization of the drug leading the characters to source illegal ways of finding the fantasites.

rsz_worm3This leads to an intense scene where Charles discovers thanks to a local drug dealer the nasty and gruesome way the fantasites are harvested and its this turning point where the films earlier charming often fantasy like elements are slowly eroded to stark reality. The first part of the film is slightly weak in parts in that we establish the characters who come across as slightly one dimensional and at times irritating. Particularly Charles who has too many social ticks that make him seem more annoying and awkward and despite some empathy being built towards him, there’s still a tendency to start seeing that he is his own fool and that he does not recognise when he is being mocked or being talked down to or when he is easily led. Though this is evident throughout the darker parts of the film where his affection for June drives him to become increasingly involved and associated with more dodgier and violent characters. Yet despite the irritations Ferguson and the other two main actors, O’Brien and Mercer, do well with what they are given and provide surprisingly decent performances to root for, particularly Charles and June, who are slowly unaware of the dire situation we the audience know they are unwillingly and willingly heading towards.

rsz_worm4Working on a low budget Malette has managed to craft an impressive feature that does have a few rough edges and slightly flawed character portrayals but on the whole WORM is a surprisingly engaging experience and one with the possibility of developing a cult appeal and shows that the director has enough ideas and ambition to confidently handle and command your attention throughout. The only thing the film left me wondering though is why the hell would you put a live worm in your ear in the first place?

7.5/10

Army of Frankensteins (2013) Review

aof1Army of Frankensteins (2013)

Directed by Ryan Bellgardt

Starring Jordan Farris, Christian Bellgardt, John Ferguson and Rett Terrell

UK DVD release September 14th 2015 from High Fliers Films

In the aftermath of a savage beating by a street gang, Alan Jones ends up at the lab of a mad scientist, Dr. Tanner Finski, and his sidekick and all round child genius sidekick Igor. Within the lab Jones discovers that he is the key to an experiment that involves Frankenstein’s monster. After the experiment invariably goes wrong, Finski sends Igor back in time to the American Civil War where an inter dimensional portal has allowed a gang of monsters to converge.

In any new take on classic monsters the question will always remain, what can be done differently? How do we get a modern audience to engage with age old material that has been filmed until there’s no more life left in the material (pun intended). In Ryan Bellgardt’s (director of 2011’s Two Movie Guys’ Intergalactic Holiday Showdown) Army of Frankensteins, the director tries to a bit of everything from setting some of the scenes in modern day America to sending characters back to the past, in a time of war, when the USA was fighting itself. Rather than have one Frankenstein’s Monster, have a whole army. This works well and the make up effects hold up.

Bellgardt pays homage through the film to other genre directors and it doesn’t feel disingenuous. Take for example, the shot of Igor, shot from within a car boot, looking up ala any of Tarantinos films especially Reservoir Dogs. These little touches help the film along, feeling like a nod rather than a blatant rip off.

Another nice touch are the scenes with Frankenstein’s vision, I for one cannot remember the last time I saw a film with Frankenstein’s monster vision, think The Terminator without the digital displays. Also the film had some well made effects on the budget that was given ($65,000). Clearly they aren’t blockbuster quality but they have a certain charm.

aof2The film also tries to take on the discrimination between white and black soldiers with one character decrying that the Frankenstein monsters are merely understood and discriminated against because they look different. Its an odd take on the character but a different and well played out take on the age old monster.

With the film set in the American Civil War, as other films have done recently, they brought in the most famous of Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. It was a nice touch to see how they bring the character into the plot and how they pay it off. I wont spoil anything in this here review but , the question is asked, would you change history if you could? What would happen if you could save someone who dies, how would this affect the rest of history? It’s an interesting question and very entertaining.

As the film closes the end titles appear and they are startling up turn in quality, where a low budget film of this nature may stump up for simple black on white, these titles are an explosion of cartoon almost Sin City style look.

I would applaud Bellgardt on his films ambition and his vision for someone so young, the scope of the film is grand with many locations, some with big sets and epic lighting. It is great fun with nice characters  (Igor looks like a steam punk style genius) but this is where the film starts to lose its way a little. As the film becomes more epic in scope we lose the sense of storytelling and it turns into a genre mashup that the effects, cast and direction cant quite cope with. From pantomime style acting and almost joke-like false moustaches, the film does stumble and you feel it almost immediately.

aof3Army of Frankensteins is an award winning film winning Best Special Effects at Action on Film International Film Festival 2014 and Best Fantasy Feature at Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2014.

6/10

Worm (2013) DVD Review

 

worm1Worm (2013) DVD Review

by James Simpson

Run Time – 93 minutes

Director – Doug Mallette

Starring – John Ferguson, Shane O’Brien, Jes Mercer

In the near future people will be unable to dream. To get around this a corporation has somehow developed a way to re-create dreams for the masses. They have made ‘Fantasites’: strange little worm-like parasites that are placed in the ear of the user. Once inside it dissolves and absorbed into the blood stream of the brain. This will make the user experience very realistic and amazing dreams that they have been missing for so long. The handyman of an apartment building, Charles (Ferguson), has been toying with the thought of using the dream-aid for sometime but can’t afford it. Then he encounters arrogant neighbour Reed (O’Brien): he is financially well off and can afford to use Fantasites a lot. This spurs Charles to save up and finally buy some yet the more he ‘takes’ them the more addicted he seems to them, as does Reed.

The latest Synapse release is one worth seeking out regardless of a, at the moment, US only release. Worm is a movie full with so many good points it rewards any efforts invested by the viewer.

worm2The plot is a little strained in establishing how people come to be using Fantasites but other than that it is carried out well. The early scenes make it clear that these ‘designer’ parasites are highly sought after in a now dreamless-world. At times it feels like they are being sold as if they are some ‘must have’ accessory such as the latest smart phone or an iPad. People that have them couldn’t be happier while those without long to experience using the weird little worms.

This wanting something marketed as being essential is part of the plot later on, as Charles begins to eye up Reed’s ‘premium’ Fantasites. Charles can only afford the cheaper ‘economy’ worms that, while providing the user with dreams, doesn’t feel as real and won’t last as long in the memory once awake. Charles becomes more and more tempted by taking what Reed has, as well as his girlfriend June (Mercer), which shows that the shy handyman is becoming dependant on the parasites.

As the plot ploughs on the longing of June by Charles threatens to take over the film, although thankfully the story of the addiction to Fantasites does retake the spotlight eventually. The June/Charles sub-plot is good, both Ferguson and Mercer are talented actors, yet the fate of Charles as a user of worms is much more entertaining as the viewer follows him, and Reed come the end, as he will do anything to have another dream. The parallel to being a drug addict is obvious and it is this theme that seems to be the purpose of Charles’ fate.

worm3An entertaining attempt at an original, modern tale of love and addiction plus the isolation and desperation that both these subjects can sometimes cause, Worm is a finely acted and thought-out film that is enthralling.

8 out of 10.

Available on region-free DVD from Synapse Films on August 12th.

http://synapse-films.com/synapse-films/worm-dvd/