A Creative But Aimless Midnight Movie

Jan 22, 2023

All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is the combination of weird and transgressive that feels as wrong to be watching alone as it does in the company of others — it’s a true midnight movie. The primary emotional responses it elicits are disbelief, discomfort, confusion, and laughter, a combination that can make for a powerful aesthetic experience under the right circumstances. This film from writer-director Alex Phillips, making his feature debut, sometimes feels like it’s going to make it there. It is clearly the product of an artist, and it is realized with vision by a committed cast and crew. But reflecting on the varied experience, it’s difficult to find a throughline that makes it worth recommending. Its absurdity is enough to appeal to the right group of adventurous friends, perhaps, but even those with the stomach for its grossest impulses might find themselves wondering what it was all for.

Fractured and inconstant, the story of All Jacked Up and Full of Worms resists synopsis, and putting some of its ideas into words may render them more blunt than they play, but here goes. Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) is the maintenance man for a skeevy motel and part of an odd, strained relationship with Samantha (Betsey Brown), who hungers for transcendent experiences. Benny (Trevor Dawkins) is a strange, perverted, lonely man who claims what he wants most is a baby, and whose attempt to order one in the mail proves uncomfortable viewing. They cross paths after Benny’s surprisingly warm motel session with a local prostitute, Henrietta (Eva Fellows), results in them learning they can “take” worms like hallucinogens. After bonding with one another, their trip takes a violent turn when they run into a depraved couple (Mike Lopez and Carol Rhyu) in partial clown makeup who have clearly been hooked on worms longer than they have, and like to up the ante by committing acts of general mayhem.

Related: Something In The Dirt Review: Mind Bender Pushes Limits Of Reality & Patience

Phillip Andre Botello and Carol Rhyu in All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

Or, maybe that all doesn’t happen. Phillips does not provide narrative certainty at almost any point, with the destabilizing editing and surreal imagery discouraging fixed interpretation. Is this all Roscoe’s overdose-induced nightmare? Is he — as a bizarre TV interview the movie repeatedly returns to and suggests is possible — in a hell run by worm demons? Who’s to say? No film, especially one this psychedelic, is required to provide narrative answers, but a bit more clarity in its storytelling could have served All Jacked Up and Full of Worms well, at least when it comes to the characters. The performances do a lot to make them captivating, but because what happens to them is never quite clear, neither is what the audience can learn about them from their behavior. Take Benny, who is played by Dawkins as an affable simpleton but does and says deeply discomforting things. The tension of his scenes stems from not knowing exactly what to make of him at any moment, and the reactions he elicits vary wildly. It can be exciting not to be told how to feel, but it can also dampen the movie’s ability to speak with any clarity, and the nature of his storyline wants for something more definitive to say.

And yet, expecting a message from a movie called All Jacked Up and Full of Worms isn’t quite fair, and it’s really more of an aesthetic experience. The horror film clearly displays both unusual vision and dedicated craftwork, and it’s easiest to appreciate it on that level, especially if one’s viewing habits tend to skew more mainstream. The special effects are particularly impressive, given what must have been its budget constraints, and they are creatively deployed. Phillips gets the most comedic mileage out of the worms-as-drugs conceit, resulting in a visual gag that works almost every time, and the rest of its laughs are scattered among jolts of disgust and befuddlement. The film is, to its credit, very unpredictable, and provokes a range of emotional responses that oscillate constantly.

Carol Rhyu and Mike Lopez in All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

But here, too, the viewer is left wishing for a greater sense of curation. Even when a film dares to untether its audience from reality, it’s the sense of a steady hand shaping their path through the ether that makes such cinematic experiences worthwhile. Formal flourishes make clear that there is a method to All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ madness, but it gets somewhat lost in translation, until the predominant characteristic of its journey through psychosis is aimlessness. Perhaps this was the artist’s intention, and perhaps some of its audience may get more out of the realization of that vision. But, for this critic, that wasn’t quite enough to have made this particular trip worth taking.

Next: Triangle Of Sadness Review: A Sharp, Deranged & Beautifully Hilarious Satire

All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is screening in a series of limited theatrical engagements and is available for digital purchase and rental. The film is 71 minutes long and is currently unrated.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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