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Fantastic Fest Review: Is ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ a practical joke, a dark descent or both?

Director Alex Phillips has devised a 72-minute movie that probably can't be compared to much else, and that certainly won't be for everyone.
Credit: Fantastic Fest

TEXAS, USA — A movie as made-to-be-watched-at-2-in-the-morning bonkers as “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” thrives all the more – er, make that “beguiles” – off the anonymity of its cast, and writer/director Alex Phillips has assembled a perfectly unknowable micro-ensemble for his dazed stagger of a feature-length debut. Even more than the “Special worm effects” credit and total lack of a first act, it’s the unfamiliarity of this movie’s faces – one of them, sad and scuzzy, portraying a loner who feeds a pleasure doll as if it were a real baby – that emphasizes the sheer weirdness of its existence, and keeps one anxiously wondering, “Blair Witch Project”-style, if the performers made it out OK. 

It isn’t physical danger the characters face (well, at least not until the final stretch) so much as a toxic ennui they seem to have already sunk half into by the time we meet them, tripping out on living room floors and signing off on mysterious home deliveries as a talk show in the background drones on about pagan prophets. A short while later, Benny (Trevor Dawkins) will sincerely ask a sex worker if she’s interested in mothering his child. Neighbor Roscoe (Phillip Andrea Botello) will nearly be shanked by local Bonnie and Clyde types who make Bonnie and Clyde seem presidential. By the time they start slurping down or snorting up hallucinogenic worms to be “one with the dirt,” all bets are off—aesthetically, thematically and logically. 

It’s a capital-W Weird movie, is what I’m trying to say, and the kind of dynamic Fantastic Fest discovery for audiences who relish in the obscure. The characters are self-destructive at best and there’s little to latch on to emotionally, which is probably to be expected for a film that often messes with its own chronology while skipping cheerily – and eerily – between planes of reality. 

Phillips has brought forth unto audiences a movie that is audacious, if nothing else. Thankfully, it indeed is something else: a curiously transfixing piece of filmmaking that foregoes narrative buildup for dramatic dissonance, skins itself of any obvious signs as to its cinematic precursors and conjures up an anguished worldview potent enough to at least partially cauterize its most random imagery. If you make it past the litmus test that is the first 10 minutes, “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” eventually begins to warp our limited perspective – both structurally and visually – into rough-hewn suggestions of bodily liberation. “You have to unlearn your shapes,” becomes the movie’s thematic echo—a motif that applies as much to Phillips setting filmmaking niceties ablaze as it does the unfortunate souls who insist on continuing to break themselves down. Bodies meld and spirits clash. Faces are deformed and souls are ripped wide open. The director makes his affinity for sharply contrasting colors clear, and his disgust for straightforward storytelling clearer. 

And what’s it all actually about in the end, following a jaw-dropping climax of such liquid-spewing chaos that the set must have turned into a slipping hazard? Obsession over companionship? The futility of reproduction? The dehumanizing pursuit of our most carnal selves? Who the hell knows. I can imagine Phillips watching people trying to get at the black heart of his movie and having a laugh once they’ve become as deluded as his characters. It’s a practical joke that the audience who “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” was made for is sure to appreciate. 

"All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" will release Nov. 8 on VOD platforms before it lands on Fandor. 

Starring Phillip Andre Botello, Sammy Arechar, Betsey Brown, Trevor Dawkins

Written and directed by Alex Phillips



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