One of the best things a cinephile can experience when sitting down to watch a film knowing nothing about it, is within minutes you can just tell you’re in an assured filmmaker’s hands.
That’s what happened in the opening moments of Alex Phillips’ mesmerizing psychedelic debut All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, which I just caught at Fantastic Fest. Its a surreal and grotesque vision that could probably best described to a genre fan as if David Cronenberg and Lynch were tasked with remaking Street Trash, but don’t let that description simply have you write this off as one wanna-be auteur cribbing another’s style. That’s simply a rough approximation if you will, given Full of Worms feels very much like its own very clear and concisely plotted vision in its own genre corner. On one hand it’s like nothing you’ve seen before, yet feels very familiar at times with its story of a group of people addicted to a strange earthworm that causes those that ingest the highly addictive invertebrates with psychedelic hallucinations, rage, seizures and vomiting.
The world of Worms feels retro without feeling like it’s trying to be, stylistically avant-garde without trying to be — the film feels like a surreal and nightmarish Instagram rabbit hole with a grim nihilistic climax lying in wait. The film’s look morphs and changes, but its to tell this story that has the dejected Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) coming upon some of the creepy crawlies in a hotel and then traveling down the path of addiction that is populated by Juggalos and a guy with an infant sex toy. There’s some Requiem for a Dream level nightmare fuel to be had here imbued with pitch black humor and it’s something Alex is able to organically build, that fills the whole film with unease and dread from start to finish. The film’s story is less a traditional narrative and more a day in the life as it chronicles Roscoe’s journey getting hooked and things then escalate quickly from there as he falls in with a rough crowd and commits some crimes to feed his addiction.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is fucked up, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. There’s things you’re not going to be able to unsee and for those looking for the next new voice in transgressive cinema I think we just might just found it. It’s Alex’s vision coupled with his fearless cast who are more than happy to journey into the abyss with him that are what truly completes and elevates this film from simply pure shock or silliness into something much more that you might expect. This also helps to imbue this narrative with a reality that feels dangerous, dirty and really, really horny all at the same time. What may seal the deal here for anyone even slightly curious from reading this so far, is the film clocks in at a very brisk 72 minutes! It manages to accomplish all of this before hitting that sweet spot for all genre 90 minutes, and you will never be the same afterwards.