‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ Does What it Says on the Tin, But What Else?
Fantastic Fest @ Home @ celluloid consommé
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, dir. Alex Phillips
Alex Phillips’ feature-length fever dream is getting a lot of eyes and attention during the film festival season, something that probably wouldn’t be happening if not for the tendency for horror fans and programmers to champion new original works. It’s incredibly offsetting, oftentimes sickening, and mostly confusing if not approached obliquely.
It makes me think about some pieces of music my fellow students wrote in college, those that hinged entirely on their audiences reading the program notes (some incredibly long, near-manifesto levels of writing) to provide that essential point of entry critical to understanding the work. Then as you listen the content fits the framework of the ideas and arguments put forth by the composer. AJUAFUW feels like that, but film festivals tend to provide that to moviegoers by default. Jumping into the movie ice-cold is one hell of a form of acclimatization, eliciting a fight-or-flight reaction that becomes more intense given Worms’ notoriety for an already-sickening premise.
Part of Full of Worms presents the titular organisms existence as a stand-in for unmitigated drug issues, but as always human rituals surrounding drugs often dance chaotically around their moral ingestion. As crime & debauchery are associated with drugs and their uses so does Phillips show it as a currency that pays for more delinquent acts, but not without precedent.
Because Benny, one of our main characters, struggles with mental illness the existence of the worms as drugs is a clear icon of temptation, but as he hopes to raise a child someday there also exists a set of moral scales before him. As he practices with a doll to grow into an attentive and loving father he spirals further out from where he really wants to be. He begins to learn how to cope with his disabilities but the worms are that one variable influential enough to rewrite his brain into something he has been trying to move away from. Thinking through this trajectory is one thing after having seen the film but watching it through is another experience entirely. Some may not see these themes as clearly as others but bits do tend to poke out of the surface, yep, like worms sticking out of freshly watered earth.